Every Democratic nominee in the past two decades has won Pennsylvania — and Obama did so by a comfortable margin in 2008 — but the state has grown less hospitable to Obama in the past three years. Republicans swept the 2010 midterms, winning the governor’s seat, a Senate seat and five congressional districts, including the 11th District, where Obama will appear on Wednesday.
Yet unlike other similarly challenging states — Ohio and Florida — where Democrats think they can lose and still win overall, Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral college votes are still key to almost any path to 270 electoral college votes. “It’s hard to figure out a scenario for a Democrat to win the presidency without carrying Pennsylvania,” former Democratic governor Ed Rendell, a prominent Obama supporter, said. “It’s not impossible, but it’s very, very hard.”
Obama aides believe the president maintains a strong advantage in Pennsylvania because of the Democrats’ lead in registered voters – 4.14 million Democrats compared with 3.03 million Republicans, according to the state election office, although that advantage did nothing to blunt Republican gains in 2010.
Obama’s advisers argue that off-year elections are different and that their own massive organization was not out in full force, which is starting to change.
So far, Obama for America has made more than 250,000 calls to supporters and held more than 3,500 conversations with potential volunteers, aides said. When the campaign launched its youth voter initiative several weeks ago, it did so in Philadelphia. “The advantage we have in Scranton and across Pennsylvania is that we’re starting early,” Aletheia Henry, Obama state director, said.
Obama ran even with Mitt Romney — 44 to 43 percent — in a November Quinnipiac University poll of registered voters, but fared better against other contenders, including by 10 points over Newt Gingrich.
Obama’s appearance Wednesday will be his eighth in Pennsylvania this year. He will not be accompanied by Democratic Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., a Scranton native who is running for reelection in 2012; Casey will be in Washington because of Senate votes, but members of Casey’s family will attend, aides said.
The state presents a special political challenge for the president. While Obama won parts of northeastern Pennsylvania in 2008, both congressional districts there rejected longtime Democratic incumbents two years later. Rep. Lou Barletta, the Republican who represents Scranton, said the region’s stubbornly high unemployment has shifted support away from the president.
“I think the president should stay in Washington,” Barletta said. “The people of Scranton would appreciate that more than a visit. They would appreciate a job more than a visit — especially at the taxpayers’ expense.”