Is PA Still In Play?

Sep 13, 2012

Pennsylvania has long been considered a battleground state.  But the last week has marked a change in campaign spending which might indicate the commonwealth has lost its swing. 

”This is great to be in Cornwall, a historic place.  By the way, where do you get your hoagies, here?  Do you get them at Wawa’s,” asked Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney while campaigning in Lebanon County in June.

Now….silence.  Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, said it’s been an “amazingly quiet” time to be a political analyst in Pennsylvania. 

“I mean, in past years, I’m fielding dozens of calls a week from reporters all over the country interested in Pennsylvania,” said Borick.  “That interest just isn’t there this year.”

Shortly after the Republican National Convention, two Romney-allied superPACs announced they would pull their television ads out of Pennsylvania, saying the state isn’t competitive for Romney at the moment.

A superPAC supporting the president followed suit, citing polls showing the commonwealth is leaning toward Mr. Obama.  Then, the president’s own re-election campaign halted ads. Pollster Terry Madonna of Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster College said political ad buys are just one metric of whether a state still has its swing, but still  “that’s pretty telling when you consider the fact that four years ago, when you look at the entire presidential campaign in its totality, more money was spent on Pennsylvania television than any other state in the union,” Madonna said.

Pennsylvania has gone Democratic in the last five presidential elections.  But the margin was just three percentage points in 2004. The most recent Franklin and Marshall poll of Pennsylvania voters conducted before the two national conventions showed Mr. Obama with 44% support and Governor Romney 38% with 15% undecided.

The state’s latest voter count shows Democrats with a roughly one million-head registration advantage, but analysts say for a number of reasons, the apparent edge isn’t one of the top determining factors in which way the state leans in a presidential election. Pollsters say there are two things that could bring campaign money back to Pennsylvania in a big way: another battleground state could become safer for one candidate, or the race could tighten here in the commonwealth.

And though the campaigns are holding onto their money when it comes to the airwaves, members of both parties are beating the same “it ain’t over ‘til it’s over” drum.  Governor Tom Corbett isn’t ready to call a time of death on the state’s battleground status. 

“Well, I think it’s a mistake on the part of the campaigns.  I think Pennsylvania is still very much in play in my travel across the state,” Corbett said.  “Obviously, they’re looking at where they’re going to spend money around the country.  I’m looking at Pennsylvania, I think Pennsylvania’s a very competitive state.”

And he’s not the only one who says so. 

Former Governor Ed Rendell told Pennsylvania Democrats at the convention in Charlotte last week not to rest easy, thinking they’ve bagged the commonwealth already. Rendell warned them the GOP could bring a media blitz in the last few weeks of the campaign, shrinking what’s become a comfortable lead for Mr. Obama. 

Political science professor Michael Federici, of Mercyhurst University in Erie, says he’s not buying Rendell’s “mind the trap” argument.

“Well I don’t think it’s a credible theory but I think it makes sense to say that because the last thing you want is for voters in your state to become complacent,” Federici said.

Since the superPACs and campaigns collectively wrote off Pennsylvania for the time being, the chairman of the state GOP released a statement touting its 24 field offices.  Corbett and U-S Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) have announced they’re heading the grassroots campaign to elect Romney. 

Franklin and Marshall pollster Terry Madonna said those efforts aren’t just about the presidential race.

“Here’s what they’re afraid of: that their voters will stay home,” Madonna said,”that there will, that that will diminish turnout.”

After all, Republicans hold the state House and Senate, and make up the majority of the commonwealth’s Congressional delegation.  They want to keep it that way come November.