Washington (CNN) – National Republicans are dedicating half a million dollars to the GOP candidate trying to unseat Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, CNN has learned.
With 11 days to go before Election Day, this is the first time the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) has invested in this race, a surprise since most political prognosticators consider this Senate seat likely to stay in Democratic hands.
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"Bob Casey's re-election campaign has been as underwhelming and ineffective as his last six years in the Senate. This has become a very competitive race and we want to help ensure Tom Smith has the resources to get his message out and win in November," an NRSC official told CNN.
NRSC officials said the money is intended to help pay for Smith's advertising effort in the western part of the state, where Republicans tend to fare better. They say they may put more money into this race depending on how it trends over the next few days.
Democrats are scoffing at the move, saying they're not worried about Casey at all. A Democratic official tells CNN internal polling has Casey beating Smith by 12 points – 52% to 40%.
There is a tradition of national parties putting money in a race as a head fake as a way to force the other side to spend precious resources where they're not needed. NRSC officials insist that is not the case here – that their internal polling shows the race increasingly competitive.
So far, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the NRSC's counterpart, has not dedicated resources to Pennsylvania, and a DSCC spokesman tells CNN they have no plans to spend money there.
"Tom Smith is a radical tea partier in the mold of Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock," DSCC spokesman Matt Canter told CNN.
Canter pointed out that in August, Smith made a gaffe trying to explain his anti-abortion position. When talking about his opposition to terminating a pregnancy out of rape, he brought up the fact that his daughter decided to keep her out-of-wedlock child. He quickly backtracked, however, saying he was not trying to compare rape to having a child out of wedlock.
"He has no business representing Pennsylvanians in the U.S. Senate, and the voters of the state know it," Canter said.
Still, there is some evidence Democrats are at least a little bit concerned about the race. Majority PAC, a Democratic super PAC, launched a television ad this week attacking Smith as an out-of-the-mainstream "tea party" Republican.
Casey won his seat six years ago in a closely watched contest – defeating GOP Sen. Rick Santorum in a landslide.