Perry has been focusing on big, national themes of small government and low taxes, and repealing the health-care-reform law. Keating has tried to tar Perry with his conservative views, particularly on Social Security: Perry has at various times indicated support for privatization and raising the retirement age. But Steve Crawford, a consultant for Keating, argues that "early indications are that the critical issue in the closing weeks is going to be which candidate you can trust" — which is to say, the strip-search story.
The potentially overwhelming power of the national party committees — who are forbidden from collaborating or even discussing strategies with the candidates' campaigns — poses dangers. Whatever themes and messages the committees choose will inevitably become the talk of the race, whether the candidates like it or not.
Something similar is playing out in the state's Fourth District, where first-time candidate Sean Bielat (pronounced BEE-latt) is taking on conservative pincushion Barney Frank.
Bielat, a 35-year-old Marine Corps reservist, has gotten a lot of attention, and funding, from conservatives across the country — and has even provoked concern among some state Democrats.
The competitive race has taken some people by surprise. After the Brown shocker, nearly everyone agreed that Niki Tsongas and John Tierney were the state's potentially vulnerable congressional incumbents.
It may turn out that those two are the closest calls. Tierney's wife has just pled guilty to charges stemming from a federal investigation into her brother's alleged illegal gambling business. She is essentially charged with not realizing that the money she was managing in her brother's account was obtained illegally, and Tierney himself has not been accused of any wrongdoing. Nevertheless, the scandal has raised questions about the congressman's integrity, in a district already considered a relatively tough one for Democrats. Tierney's saving grace appears to be the wackiness of his Republican opponent, Bill Hudak, who has been tied to "birther" views questioning Obama's citizenship, among other things.
Tsongas has not run into any bumps in the campaign, but she is the least-established of the state's incumbents, and has one of the toughest districts — and her opponent, Jon Golnik, is less easily lampooned than Hudak, or some of the other GOP candidates in the state.
But only Bielat has raised enough money to run a serious district-wide campaign — he claims to have collected a half-million in September alone. He has been appearing regularly on national conservative media, touting a poll putting him within 10 percentage points of Frank.
That poll is of dubious integrity — among other problems, it doesn't actually use Bielat's name in that head-to-head question — but he's used it effectively to spur belief that Frank is vulnerable, and to attract money from arch-conservatives.
And that's enough to make him a minor national celebrity among conservatives who have built something of a cult of hatred around the Jewish, openly gay congressman. Other than Pelosi, Frank is probably used in more right-wing fundraising appeals than any other Democrat in Congress.
Bielat has parlayed that anti-Frank sentiment into appearances on Fox News Channel's Hannity, Fox & Friends, and America Live programs. He has recently been interviewed on the syndicated radio shows of Dennis Miller, Laura Ingraham, and Mark Levin. He has had fawning profiles written by popular conservative bloggers Byron York for the Washington Examiner, and Robert Stacy McCain for American Spectator.