WASHINGTON - As the Donald Trump media storm dominates national politics and threatens to envelop all around him, Republicans on the ballot in Pennsylvania and South Jersey have tried to turn the conversation away from the bombast and toward less flashy local issues.

To which Democrats say: Trump, Trump, Trump.

"In some ways, the agenda of the Republican caucus is the personification of the candidacy of Donald Trump," Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) said at a Washington news conference last week, where he and others argued that Republican lawmakers might not sound like Trump, but do vote like him. "You could almost say to that caucus, 'You built that.' "

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D., N.Y.) added that congressional Republicans and Trump "will be tied at the hip in this election."

Anticipating the attacks, Republicans across the Philadelphia area have stressed workmanlike local concerns, shying away from the national fray other than to stress the importance of beating Hillary Clinton, who has her own public opinion problems.

"Voters will make a decision about every race discretely," said Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), who is up for reelection in a contest that could decide control of the Senate. "People are quite capable of making a distinction."

The tug-of-war - Republicans trying to localize races, Democrats injecting national politics - is a reversal from 2014, when Democrats running in conservative states strained to distance themselves from President Obama, while Republicans seized on his unpopularity there.

Democrats lost that battle, badly. Now they hope to return the favor.

Party leaders say Trump will prove toxic in moderate states like Pennsylvania, and last week began arguing that GOP stands on issues such as Planned Parenthood, immigration, and the Affordable Care Act align with Trump's incendiary rhetoric.

"It's pretty hard to run for office as a Republican and say, 'I don't believe that, and I don't believe that, and I don't believe that,' and then you look at their voting records on these issues, and they're not that far apart," said David Landau, chairman of the Delaware County Democratic Party. "It's going to be difficult for them to run away."

While Trump has energized many voters, and some Republican leaders have begun warming to him - including House Speaker Paul Ryan last week - most in the Philadelphia area have approached with caution.

At best they have issued statements blasting Clinton and offering tepid support for "the nominee."

Some have not even gone that far.

Asked about the de facto Republican standard-bearer, Rep. Patrick Meehan (R., Pa.) has insisted he is focused on his Delaware County-based district - supporting local refineries and fighting new regulations that he says handcuff investment advisers. And the campaign of Bucks County's Brian Fitzpatrick, running for a congressional swing seat, has not answered the Inquirer's questions over the last two weeks about how he views Trump.

Toomey said last week, "I hope that I'll be able to enthusiastically support him in the general election, because I think Hillary Clinton is completely unacceptable," but he raised concerns about Trump's tone and commitment to conservative policies, and said the billionaire had to unify the party.

Toomey's week neatly illustrated the GOP strategy and its challenges.

On Monday he called reporters to Center City so he could hammer Philadelphia's "sanctuary city" policy toward immigrants living there illegally - and his Democratic challenger, Katie McGinty.

But in Washington the next day, national reporters mobbing him only wanted to ask about Trump. A stone-faced Toomey referred them to his op-ed article on the topic and ducked into a senators-only elevator.

On Wednesday, his conference call on a bill to provide Pell grants to children of slain police officers and first responders quickly turned back to Trump questions.

For weeks GOP leaders and strategists have urged Senate and House candidates to build independent messages to distinguish themselves from the national fight.

Ryan's office sent a memo to reporters last week about the opioid crisis.

Among the many bills approved in a package of bills on the matter was one from Meehan named for a young Gladwyne man, John Decker, who died from addiction.

Toomey has run TV ads about his work on opioids and he went on the radio Monday with his sanctuary-cities attack. Friday came a letter to Mayor Kenney on the same topic. He has even couched his opposition to Obama's Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland, in local terms, arguing that the judge's views on environmental regulations could hurt Pennsylvania businesses.

Democrats scoff at the idea that small-bore local measures will deflect attention from a mogul who has dominated media coverage. They predict months of questions about whether vulnerable Republicans agree with Trump's provocative statements.

And they have seized on the Supreme Court fight as another cudgel that already has wide attention.

Republicans who refuse to consider Obama's nominee "would prefer to have Donald Trump choose who will be the next justice," Sen. Chris Coons (D., Del.) said.

Republican consultant John Brabender, however, said Democrats might not have the advantage they hope for.

Clinton also has high negative ratings, and a Quinnipiac University poll last week found her and Trump almost dead-even in Pennsylvania.

"On both sides of the aisle, they're going to be very careful to look like they're not their nominees' running mates," said Brabender, a veteran of Pennsylvania races.

He predicted that voters will compare Toomey with McGinty, not Trump, and that the GOP will unify around its nominee.

Rep. Tom MacArthur, of South Jersey, for example, said he would back Trump, despite representing the kind of moderate suburban district where the developer is believed to carry the most risk.

"I don't think it's good to run away from anything," MacArthur said. "Millions of party members have nominated our presumptive nominee and he would be far better than Hillary Clinton."

Republicans saved House seats in 1996 by distancing themselves from presidential nominee Bob Dole, said Richard Born, a Vassar College professor who studies congressional elections.

But that is a harder trick now as polarized voters increasingly stick to the party line, he said. In 2012, just 10 percent of voters split their tickets, backing opposite parties for president and the House, Born said. That was down from 30 percent in 1972.

"Party, party, party is everything these days," he said.

And presidential nominees cast long shadows.

@JonathanTamari