In the fall of 2011, long before anyone knew who would be U.S. Sen. Bob Casey's Republican opponent, RealClearPolitics' campaign analyst, Sean Trende, predicted in a chat with another reporter that the Pennsylvania Senate race could be 2012's sleeper race.
This week, Trende ranked the race a "tossup." His website, which aggregates election polls, shows Casey leading Republican Tom Smith by just 5.3 percent.
Because Casey voted for most of the Obama administration agenda in 2009 and 2010, Trende presumed that record might hurt Casey with conservative Democrats on the western side of the state.
"His credentials as a moderate have been tarnished," Trende said, explaining his thinking of a year ago. While Trende thinks Smith has likely hit his plateau, he added, "I would be less surprised if Smith won than if Romney won" the state.
With Smith's stunning rise in the polls, Casey's team released another ad this week hammering Smith on his Tea Party connections and accusing him of supporting Medicare and Social Security cuts. The ad calls Smith "extremely wrong for Pennsylvania," a play on Casey's main line of attack on Smith: He's a Tea Party extremist.
Smith's team rolled out a rebuttal Wednesday using the candidate's 94-year-old mother in the spot to push back against the kicking granny off the cliff narrative. It's a tactic used by Paul Ryan, the architect of the plan to overhaul Medicare, who has brought his senior mother on the trail with him.
"In the Senate, I'll protect Social Security and Medicare," Smith says. "After all, my own mother receives those benefits and this son would never jeopardize that." The camera pans out to show Smith sitting beside his mother.
"Right, mom?" he asks, his hand on her shoulder. "Right," she says.