How the presidential race affects our House campaigns

Things are getting interesting in Pennsylvania: first two Republican Super PACs said they were jumping into the state with buys for the presidential race, then the Obama campaign said they’d respond in kind.

Wednesday morning multiple reports say the Romney camp itself is buying airtime in Philly, representing an escalating effort by both sides in PA after the two candidates focused on tighter swing states for most of the presidential campaign.

It’s a change that could have an effect down the ballot on House races here.

Until now, local Democrats hoping to upset Republican incumbents were getting the worst of both worlds.

Challengers for House seats were counting on help from the top of the Democratic ticket. But Pennsylvania’s state of play – looking like it wouldn’t be a big Obama/Casey win, but not seeming close enough to warrant a big ground game – meant that Democrats looking for help weren’t getting it.

That was good news for incumbent House Republicans trying to fend off challenges, because if Obama and Sen. Casey were running away with their statewide races, fellow Democrats like challengers Kathy Boockvar and Manan Trivedi could count on riding their surge in their bids for seats in Congress.

On the other hand, if Democrats were seriously worried about losing Pennsylvania and its Senate seat, we might have seen a more concentrated voter turnout operation and a stronger presence on TV, more intensely spreading the Democratic message, another benefit for down-ballot challengers that can’t muster the same kind of offensive.

Instead, Pennsylvania has been stuck in a kind of middle ground that does nothing for House-level Democrats and helps incumbent Republicans like Mike Fitzpatrick, in Bucks, and Jim Gerlach, in Chester. UPDATE: In fact, on Tuesday the Romney camp released a memo saying the Republican candidate is doing better in the Philly suburbs than any GOP nominee since 1988, which would surely help his party's House candidates as well.

Obama and Casey hold slim leads in Pennsylvania, meaning they haven’t offered much in the way of coattails, but with decent leads in nearly every PA poll, the president hasn’t been pressed to really invest in air time in the state to amplify the Democratic message.

Without that help from above, Democrats were largely struggling in attempts to flip at least one of four targeted House seats in the Philly suburbs.

It’s possible that with a week until Election Day, those races are already set in stone and nothing will change them. But the investment from the tops of the tickets is something new to factor in. It could be that the Romney investment simply gives Republicans a megaphone and boosts the lead GOP candidates already have in the closer House races in our region. But if the Obama camp gets nervous and ramps up its operations here, perhaps they change the equation in some of down-ballot races that have been largely static so far.