As a result of this narrowing, we are moving the Pennsylvania Senate race from “solid Democratic” to “lean Democratic” on our 2012 Senate map. The shift reflects movement toward the Republican side and suggests the race is firmly in play.
(On the map below, the yellow states are "tossup" races, the light blue and red ones are "lean" Democratic and Republican contests, and the dark blue and red states are "solid" Democratic and Republican races.)
To be clear: Casey is still the clear frontrunner here. The Casey name is well known (and liked) in Pennsylvania, and the senator has plenty of money to spend. And with Obama looking strong in the state, Smith would likely have to run 10 points (if not more) ahead of Romney to win. That's no small feat.
It’s clear that at this point, Pennsylvania more closely resembles Senate races The Fix has included in its “lean Democratic” category, including Ohio, Florida, and Michigan, than races in the “solid Democratic” group, like West Virginia, New York and Vermont.
Casey campaign manager Larry Smar told The Fix that the campaign expected the race to tighten from that 18-point spread it was at earlier this summer. He also pointed to the lopsided spending battle since the end of the primary. Smith has recently been on the air unopposed in the Philadelphia media market, and overall, been outspending Casey by a margin of about 3-1 since the last Quinnipiac poll was taken.
Casey has already gone up with attack ads against Smith, including a recent spot that hits the Republican for saying he started a tea party group. Look for Democrats to continue trying to cast Smith as too conservative for the state.
Smith’s campaign says it has been focused on disproving the notion that Casey is a moderate. A recent campaign ad casts Casey as a tax-raiser and hits him for voting for Obama’s health care law.
At this point, Pennsylvania is not among the closest Senate races across the country. But it’s well worth keeping an eye on. If it catches the attention of the national senatorial committees enough to spur the groups to spend money on ads down the stretch, it will be a sign the race has tightened even more.