BRYN MAWR, Pa. (AP) — Rip Scott regrets his 2008 presidential vote for Barack Obama. The 60-year-old real estate company owner is going home to his Republican Party this year. Here in Philadelphia’s suburbs where Pennsylvania political fights can be won or lost, Scott’s reversal is the evidence Mitt Romney is looking for to merit his sudden, eleventh-hour sortie into the state.
“I just kind of bought into the whole thing,” Scott said remorsefully as he headed for a haircut along Philadelphia’s affluent Main Line. He said he feels demonized by Democrats as a successful business owner and wonders why Obama considers him one of the wealthy who needs to contribute more in taxes. “I don’t feel wealthy,” he said.
In the campaign’s final days, Romney is making a concerted push into Pennsylvania, aided by outside political groups spending millions in last-minute ads to help erode Obama’s support in 2008, when he won it by more than 10 percentage points. Polling shows Obama holding on to a 4 or 5 percentage point lead over Romney, but Romney has been gaining ground.
The incursion raises the question: Can Pennsylvania help Romney win the election, or is the state once again teasing a Republican presidential candidate only to see him fail??
For Romney, still flush with campaign money, a foray into Pennsylvania is not folly. He has spent massive amounts of time and money in neighboring Ohio only to see Obama maintain a slight and stubborn polling lead. Without Ohio, Romney needs Pennsylvania in his column.
Unlike states with early voting, 95 percent of the Pennsylvania votes are expected to be cast on Election Day, justifying a late attempt to sway the outcome. Romney aides argue that Obama is doing worse in the voter-rich Philadelphia suburbs than he did in 2008 and that Romney is doing better than recent Republicans have, and that he can build on the growing GOP strength in the western part of the state.
What’s more, Pennsylvania has not been saturated with political advertising, giving Romney and his supporting groups an opportunity to sway last-minute voters with a barrage of ads. Obama is not ignoring the state, and now is buying commercial time in the state as well. He’s also sending his most formidable weapon, former President Bill Clinton, to the state Monday to campaign in Pittsburgh, Scranton and in the Philadelphia area.
“Why not?” says Franklin & Marshall College political scientist Terry Madonna, summing up Romney’s reasoning for taking a chance with Pennsylvania.
“When they look across the border and see Pennsylvania, which was a 7-, 8- , 9-point state for Obama before the first debate, is now a 4-, 5-point Obama state,” he said. “All things being equal, why not hedge their bets?”
Still, the state has been elusive for the GOP. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 4-3 in the state. Despite trying, no Republican presidential candidate has won the state since 1988. The closest was in 2004, when President George W. Bush came up 2.5 percentage points short of John Kerry. For Romney to win, Obama would have to do worse than Kerry and Romney would have to do better than Bush.
“Every four years we go through this with Republicans saying that they’re going to play in Pennsylvania,” Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter said. “It’s a sign that he can’t quite figure out his path to 270 electoral votes, so he’s sending out lifelines.”
Romney’s entry into Pennsylvania comes in the immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, which devastated neighboring New Jersey. The state’s southeast has a special relationship with New Jersey, where many of its residents vacation and where New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is as well-known as Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, if not better known.
Obama’s tour with Christie to survey the storm’s damage this week and Christie’s compliments for Obama’s response are bound to be noticed in some parts of the state.
“The president performs, he’s on the ground, he’s getting praise by one of the nation’s leading Republicans and early supporters of Gov. Romney,” Madonna said. “It’s certainly helpful. We don’t know how helpful.”
Romney political director Rich Beeson said Romney will gain in Republican regions where he will push issues of jobs and energy, particularly gas exploration in the northeastern part of the state and coal in the southwest corner. But much of the attention by the two campaigns is in the ring of counties around Democratic-heavy Philadelphia. Romney will campaign in those suburbs this weekend.
With 1 in 5 of Pennsylvania’s registered voters living there, the heavily populated, moderate suburbs of Chester, Delaware, Bucks and Montgomery counties are a reliable predictor of who will win the state. Voters there are highly educated and accustomed to splitting their tickets; they tend to lean liberal on environmental and social issues but conservative on fiscal matters.
“The types of voters in places like Bucks County or any of the suburban counties in Philadelphia are not a bad fit for Mitt Romney, especially the moderate Mitt that he’s pitched himself as this fall,” said Christopher Borick, a pollster and political scientist at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.
“These aren’t individuals who are going to say ‘Oh, I can’t relate at all to a wealthy businessman,’” Borick said, “because in that part of the state a wealthy businessman is not exotic.”
Indeed, Beeson sees inroads in those Philadelphia suburbs where Romney could gain from a primary contest when he was labeled a “Massachusetts moderate” by conservative opponents.
It’s no wonder that a Romney radio ad playing in Mrs. Marty’s Deli stressed his time as Massachusetts governor, working with a Democratic legislature, and his willingness to work across partisan divides as president.
Perry Gresh, 50, a Republican who owns an oil exploration company, said he voted for Ron Paul in the primary but will support Romney as the party’s nominee in hopes of seeing a more stable tax structure.
Jonathan Marsh, a 21-year-old software engineer and registered Democrat, said he would vote for Libertarian Gary Johnson if it were not, in essence, a wasted vote. Instead, he will vote for Obama because he finds Romney to be untrustworthy and unreliable.
About 45 minutes away, in Newtown, Warren May, 67, a registered independent, said he will be voting for Romney after supporting Obama in 2008. May said he doesn’t regret voting for Obama and struggled to pinpoint exactly why he’s switching.
“I don’t know what (Obama’s) agenda is,” May said as he left a drugstore. “He definitely has the smarts to be a great leader, but he didn’t show himself to be a great leader.”
Kuhnhenn reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Mark S. Smith contributed to this report.
Follow Jim Kuhnhenn on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/jkuhnhenn
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