True Believers In McCain Flock to Pa.

The state of Pennsylvania is once again a cherished battleground state for presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama. Joe White canvasses for the McCain campaign as Election Day rapidly approaches, and Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin rallies Republican supporters in State College, Pa.
By Eli Saslow
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 1, 2008

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- He hated the helplessness of watching John McCain's efforts from afar, so Joe White, 62, loaded up his trailer in South Carolina and drove here last weekend. He set up camp in a Wal-Mart parking lot, bought a map of State College and started knocking on strangers' doors -- 25 houses per hour, 10 hours each day.

On Tuesday morning, more than four days and 1,100 houses into his trip, White approached a rancher with a McCain sign in the front yard. Beverly Blood, 71, answered the door.

"You're here for John McCain?" Blood said. "I'm for him, too, but some people are saying it's not looking so good."

"Well," White said, "I'm one of those people who thinks it's not over until the fat lady sings."

During the last two weeks, thousands of volunteers such as White have flocked to Pennsylvania -- the land of last resort for McCain's campaign. Among staffers and volunteers working frantically in this state, the typical line of thought goes like this: If McCain can somehow score an upset in Pennsylvania, he will earn 21 electoral votes, compensate for potential losses in some traditionally Republican states and narrowly defeat Sen. Barack Obama for the presidency. On their T-shirts and hats, McCain volunteers reduce the strategy to a simple slogan: Twenty-one.

It's the promise of twenty-one that persuaded McCain's campaign to redirect so many of its efforts to Pennsylvania; that drew McCain and vice presidential nominee Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to the state for eight rallies this week alone; that compelled McCain to confess to a crowd in Hershey, "We need to win in Pennsylvania on November the 4th."

Pennsylvania has not gone for a Republican candidate for president in 20 years, and several polls indicate Obama maintains a double-digit lead here. But, on an electoral map that looks increasingly grim for McCain in swing states such as Virginia, Colorado and Florida, advisers said they have reasons to hope in Pennsylvania. Obama lost badly to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton in this state's primary, in part because he struggled to connect with white working-class voters. Because Pennsylvania does not allow early voting, McCain has more time to make his comeback.

For the strategy to work, McCain will have to woo unprecedented support from registered Democrats, who outnumber Republicans by more than 1.2 million. His campaign helped launch more than a dozen Democrats for McCain groups across the state, and it bused in Democratic volunteers from New Jersey and New York. Senator Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lynn Forester de Rothschild, a top fundraiser for Clinton's campaign, will spend several days speaking to Democrats on McCain's behalf.

"I think Pennsylvania could be a big surprise to the conventional thought in the Democratic Party," Rothschild said. "Pennsylvania is a conservative Democratic state, and John McCain can win it. We are targeting independents and Democrats, and they're just not comfortable with Barack Obama's plan for America, because it's outside of the mainstream. This is the most important thing I've done in politics. The election could turn right here."

Obama's campaign has responded to McCain's efforts by fortifying its own operation in Pennsylvania. Obama held a rally Tuesday in Chester, and his running mate, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., visited four cities last week. Less than 16 hours after a Palin rally in State College on Tuesday night, Bill Clinton took the same stage and spoke on Obama's behalf.

"As unlikely as it is for them to succeed [in Pennsylvania], we've got to take that seriously, and we will," said David Plouffe, Obama's campaign manager.

Said McCain spokesman Peter Feldman: "Both campaigns see Pennsylvania as in play."

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