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Callahan Spending Prompts GOP Speculation About 2012

John Callahan, the highly touted Democrat trying to unseat Rep. Charlie Dent in Pennsylvania, has limited his media buys for the final leg of the campaign, prompting Republicans to question his strategy and whether he might already be looking ahead to 2012.

The Callahan campaign lashed out at the possibility that it wasn’t fully engaged in trying to win on Nov. 2.

“Charlie Dent and the Republicans are dreaming if they think John Callahan is going anywhere but to Congress,” said Callahan campaign manager Justin Schall. “Personally I hope they buy their own spin.”

But Callahan’s denial hasn’t tamped down the speculation among Republicans. Officials within the Pennsylvania GOP report that Callahan has downsized his media buys in the Philadelphia market in recent weeks, a move that seems to correspond with deteriorating poll numbers. They note that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently reduced its Philadelphia commitment as well.

“For me, it almost sounds like he’s thinking about running again,” said Mike Barley, communications director for the state GOP.

Dent, whose Lehigh Valley district supported President Barack Obama by 13 points in 2008, was supposed to be among the most vulnerable Republican incumbents this cycle. But Callahan, who’s just 42 years old, is a prodigious fundraiser and has served as Bethlehem mayor since 2004. He trailed the Republican by 17 points in the most recent public poll released, a Muhlenberg College survey taken Oct. 5 to 13.

Numbers provided by the campaigns tell an interesting story.

Callahan went into Philadelphia heavy the week of Oct. 6, spending more than $80,000 on one key station alone. That station, the ABC affiliate WPVI, has the top-rated news programming and attracts strong senior viewership to programs such as “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy,” explained the Dent campaign.

But after spending big early, Callahan cut his buys to less than $30,000 for that station in the subsequent two weeks. And Callahan’s overall spending in Philadelphia (spread among four networks) fell to $90,000 this week. That’s compared with $165,000 for Dent.

“We’ve got independent polls that show he’s 17 points down,” said Dent spokesman Shawn Millan. “The DCCC is pulling money out of the Philly market. What’s his path to victory?”

The Callahan campaign declined to say much about its spending strategy but noted that Philadelphia is just a piece of the 15th district media market. The local cable station has strong penetration, as does radio, according to Schall.

Taking into account Philadelphia television, cable, local radio and Allentown broadcasts, Callahan has outspent Dent $582,000 to $454,000 in the last three weeks, according to figures provided by Schall.

“We’ve outspent Charlie Dent on paid communication every week since Sept. 1 and we will continue to outspend him every week until the end of the campaign,” Schall said. “Those are the facts. There is no letting off the gas pedal. This is going to be a 12-round fight and we’re going to knock him out in the end.”

The Callahan campaign has noticed the DCCC’s reported plans to shift resources away from the Philadelphia market, which is certainly not a hopeful sign for the Democrat. But Schall said things could change.

“I still think that there’s a very good chance that the DCCC comes,” he said. “If they come hard and fast in the last several days, that could be a game changer.”

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