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But the pro-life, pro-gun Mr. Critz — he was endorsed by the NRA this month — has so far claimed the political center in the campaign. And Mr. Critz is also swamping the Burns campaign on the fundraising front, according to Federal Election Commission reports filed Friday.

From July 1 to Sept. 30, Mr. Critz has outspent his opponent almost 5-to-1, $477,000 to about $108,000.

Both candidates are getting help - Mr. Burns from the National Republican Congressional Committee and Mr. Critz from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Mr. Critz also got a boost last week from Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., who made a fundraising plug for the congressman at an appearance in Pittsburgh.

The Burns campaign pounced, using the Biden stop to support their claim that Mr. Critz is a loyal member of the Obama team.

That’s part of the problem for the Burns campaign, some political observers say: Too much reliance on negative attacks on Mr. Critz, not enough effort spent defining their own candidate.

“He doesn’t seem to have done a good enough job of telling people the kind of congressman he would be,” Mr. Madonna told The Washington Times.

“I tell everyone to take all of these polls with a grain of salt. There’s going to be a surprise somewhere,” he said. “There always is.”