Pennsylvania has gone Democratic each year since 1988. But because the margins are usually competitive—George W. Bush came within two points of taking the state in 2004 and was within five points four years earlier. The competitiveness of the state usually earns it “battleground” status and a report from Scott Conroy at RealClearPolitics indicates that Mitt Romney believes he has a real shot to pull a modest upset here in November, while Barack Obama’s re-election team believes Pennsylvania is all but in the bag.
Political strategists putting a rosy spin on things for their particular candidate is nothing new, but Conroy does note that what makes Pennsylvania interesting is that it’s the only state where the campaign spins disagree on whether it’s competitive or not. Current polling backs up the Obama belief, but is the Romney campaign right that the lead is rotten at its core?
I think that might be an overstatement. There are certainly problems the president’s re-election effort faces in the Keystone State. His anti-gun stance isn’t going to go over well and if a new voter ID law is upheld by the courts, it’s going to prevent mass voter fraud in Philadelphia, the kind of ballot-box stuffing the Democrats have used to great effect in my home state of Wisconsin. Passage of voter ID means a left-wing candidate like the president will really need 50.1 percent of the vote to win, not 48 percent and steal the rest.
But those problems can be offset by the likelihood that a lot of the strong Philadelphia turnout in 2008 was legitimate, as African-Americans came out for Obama, and that’s almost certainly going to be repeated in 2012. Pittsburgh, where I lived for nine years, isn’t natural Obama territory, but it’s a lot less foreign for any Democratic candidate than it is for a Republican out of the nation’s upper economic echelon. Furthermore, the bailout of the auto industry in Michigan has positive ripple effects on steel in western Pennsylvania.
If a Republican candidate could credibly bring a platform of economic nationalism before the voters of Pennsylvania—a sustained program of protection for the steel industry—they could peel of large numbers of socially conservative Democrats and put them together with a coalition that includes the Republican-leaning central part of the state.
The residents of central PA are the ones Obama was intending to denigrate in 2008 when he mocked “bitter people” who cling to “guns and religion.” But these voters alone aren’t enough to win and I see little reason to think Romney has the credibility to carry the state.
It’s fine to give rhetoric about fighting in every state, but when it comes to hard decisions about campaign spending, the Romney campaign should direct its attention elsewhere—places like Nevada and Colorado are also spots they could sting the president on blue-leaning turf and they hold out higher prospects of success.
Dan Flaherty is the author of Fulcrum, an Irish Catholic novel set in postwar Boston with a traditional Democratic mayoral campaign at its heart, and he is the editor-in-chief of TheSportsNotebook.com