And Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D), the scion of a political dynasty, was coasting toward reelection after a huge win in 2006.
But apparently no one told Tom Smith that Pennsylvania was off the grid. The coal industry executive has put $17 million of his own money into the Senate race, and with no competing ads on the air in Philadelphia for weeks, Smith, the GOP’s nominee, had a relatively free run at Casey until recently.
The first-time candidate pounded away at Casey as “Senator Zero” for his close relationship to President Obama, turning the letter “O” into a version of Obama’s campaign logo. Then came Romney’s strong performance in the first presidential debate, and in just a few weeks the Republicans have surged within striking distance of Casey and Obama.
Now, outside interest groups are considering ad buys in the Senate race, which remains a long shot but might be the only chance Republicans have of securing the majority, given their stumbles in other Senate contests. Additionally, Romney’s campaign dipped a toe back into Pennsylvania on Saturday when his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), held a rally with Smith at Pittsburgh’s airport — the first time Ryan or Romney had been in the state in almost a month.
On Sunday, Romney officials said that they were intrigued by the state but that no final decisions had been made on whether to finance ads here. Because of Pennsylvania’s restrictive absentee-voting rules — more than 95 percent of ballots will be cast on Election Day — officials said they are leaving open the option of a final sprint of ads.
Most local experts predict an Obama win, but with a smaller margin than his 10-percentage-point victory in 2008. Nonetheless, Pennsylvania is suddenly relevant again, and that’s why the Obama campaign dispatched top surrogates last week to give pep talks to workers and volunteers engaged in a final effort to turn out voters.
On Wednesday evening, Joshua Shapiro, the new chairman of the Montgomery County Commission, made the rounds at several offices in Philadelphia as well as in his county, a critical suburban stronghold for Democrats. At his last stop, Shapiro added a plug for Casey, a recognition that the senator could be in trouble. “The key for the president, and for Senator Casey, is here in the suburbs,” he told volunteers in Elkins Park.
Shapiro, 40, the first Democratic chairman in the 140 years that Montgomery County has been incorporated, is a symbol of why Pennsylvania has become such fertile ground for Democratic presidential campaigns. Once a bastion of “Rockefeller Republicans,” the county has voted Democratic in every presidential contest since 1992. Shapiro’s victory in 2011, giving his party its first majority on the three-member council, caught the attention of Obama campaign manager Jim Messina, who summoned Shapiro to Chicago this year to discuss how he won in the suburbs.