Will History Help Mr. Smith?

Among the hopes of Pennsylvania Republicans this year is that the state's history of ticket-splitting in big elections might help GOP Senate candidate Tom Smith go to Washington.

The race between Smith and incumbent Democrat Bob Casey Jr. is getting a little more notice now that recent polling suggests a tighter contest than most expected.

The big reason for the race getting tighter is that multi-millionaire Smith spent about $4 million since July on TV while Casey just started what aides call a "substantial" TV buy.

But there are some in the GOP who point to the past in hoping for a Smith victory.

In presidential elections, the state often votes one way for the top of the ticket and another for the next-highest office.

In the last three presidential elections, for example, Pennsylvania went for Democrats Obama, Kerry and Gore for president but split for Republicans Tom Corbett (for AG in `08), Arlen Specter (then a Republican in `04) and Rick Santorum (in 2000).

In 1996, there was no high-office race below the presidential contest. Bill Clinton carried the state. But in 1992 when PA voters first went for Democrat Clinton, they also reelected then-Republican Specter.

Historically, such splits happened six or seven times, according to Franklin & Marshall College pollster and pundit Terry Madonna.

So is it one of those Pennsylvania things such as switching the party of the governor's office every eight years?

Smith certainly hopes so, and reportedly plans to help the trend by spending another $10 million of his own money on TV before Election Day.

One problem, however, could be what many see as a hardening of partisanship in recent years. As left and right grow further apart and more entrenched, the chances of ticket-splitting likely decrease.

And the irony is rich. Increased partisanship could hurt Smith (in a state with 1 million more registered Democrats than Republicans) whose emergence came in part by the emergence of increased partisanship. He started a tea party group in western Pennsylvania to argue against incumbents. And it could help Casey, the very incumbent Smith seeks to ouster, as hard-line Democrats stick with their party from top of the ticket to bottom.