For weeks, most observers have rolled their eyes at the notion that Pennsylvania is in play in the presidential race. I frankly thought it would be lower on the list of gettable states for Mitt Romney than, say, Iowa and Wisconsin. That may still be the case (as Romney’s appeal in the upper Midwest remains strong), but Pennsylvania is almost certainly close.
Terry Madonna of Franklin and Marshall College and Michael Young of Michael Young Strategic Research write: “ In the latest Franklin & Marshall College Poll, Obama’s lead is only 49% to 45% among likely voters, while Romney’s favorable rating has risen markedly from 34% positive to 43% positive. Even more important than Romney’s surge is the reason for it. Romney is gaining on Obama in Pennsylvania because more and more voters believe he is the best candidate to fix the nation’s economic problems. The September F & M poll revealed that Obama led Romney 47% to 43% on who can best manage the economy. That Obama advantage has now sharply reversed with Romney now leading Obama 47% to 42% on managing the economy.” A month earlier, Obama’s lead was 11 points.
As in other critical states, the debates boosted Romney. Reuters reports:
Ann Koberna, a Democratic activist and former school teacher in the Philadelphia suburb of Doylestown, did not need a poll or ads to see that support for Obama was eroding ahead of next Tuesday’s election.
She noticed it just after the first debate, on October 3, which boosted Romney’s national poll numbers after his strong performance. All of a sudden, she said, Romney-Ryan lawn signs started popping up in Doylestown and now they are all over the place.
“It’s troubling,” she said, noting she recently planted an Obama sign in her front lawn as a “counterbalance.”
“I know people who voted for Obama last time but aren’t this time,” Koberna said. She attributes the shift less to the debate than the economy. “They are looking for someone to blame.”
The Franklin and Marshall poll supports her observation.
Of the registered voters polled, 47 percent said Romney was the “most prepared to fix our economic problems,” versus 42 percent for Obama. That was almost exactly the reverse of the result in Franklin and Marshall’s poll taken in September.
Pennsylvania is close enough, for example, to get a visit from Romney on the Sunday before Election Day. It is close enough to gain a visit from VP Joe Biden. It is close enough, as Phil Rucker of the Post reports, to garner “2.5 million worth of broadcast television advertising there, as well as roughly $500,000 in radio ads” from the Republican National Committee. And it is close enough for third-party groups to spend several million in the state on behalf of Romney as well.
There is, in addition to the auto bailout and the improved economy in Ohio, good reason why Ohio might be a tougher nut to crack for Romney than Pennsylvania. When Obama’s campaign carpet-bombed with negative ads this summer, driving down Romney’s favorability, it concentrated its efforts in Ohio. Pennsylvania was relatively free from the Obama onslaught. Now, with more favorable national coverage of Romney, solid debate performances and a competitive U.S. Senate race, Romney has fertile ground to plow.
Can Romney win Pennsylvania? Perhaps. But it is close. It wasn’t close a few weeks ago. That says which way the race is trending.