With just one week to go until the presidential election, Mitt Romney’s campaign is hyping up a new statewide ad buy in Pennsylvania, a big battleground that has been firmly in the Democratic column throughout the 2012 election cycle. In a memo sent to reporters Tuesday, Romney’s political director Rich Beeson claims that the ad buy — which includes the expensive Philadelphia market — is further evidence that Romney is expanding the electoral college map, forcing Obama to defend multiple states that he won in 2008.
Pennsylvania presents a unique opportunity for the Romney campaign. Over the past few years we have seen Pennsylvania voting for a Republican senator and a Republican governor, and Republicans win control of the State House in addition to the State Senate. The western part of the Keystone State has become more conservative (and President Obama’s war on coal is very unpopular there), and Mitt Romney is more competitive in the voter-rich Philadelphia suburbs than any Republican nominee since 1988. This makes Pennsylvania a natural next step as we expand the playing field.
While the Obama campaign would like to wish it is 2008, the reality is that they are now forced to “play defence” in least six states (Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Colorado, New Hampshire, Iowa and Wisconsin) that they once believed were “safe” Obama wins.
Obama’s campaign manager Jim Messina immediately fired back, sending out a statement that dismissed the new Romney ad buy as a “desperate play.”
“Let’s be very clear, the Romney campaign and its allies decision to go up with advertising in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Minnesota is a decision made out of weakness, not strength,” Messina wrote.
Still, the Obama campaign has responded with its own new ad buy in Pennsylvania, an indication that there may be some truth to Beeson’s arguments.
Which leaves us to wonder what the real state of play is in Pennsylvania. Does Romney really have a shot at winning the key swing state and its 20 electoral college votes?
The short answer is no, not really.
Here are the key signs that Pennsylvania isn’t really in play:
- Obama is up by an average 4.7 points in Pennsylvania, according to RealClearPolitics.That’s down from a high of 9 points at the end of September, but still a significant lead, and one that has been consistent throughout the 2012 election cycle.
- Pennsylvania hasn’t swung Republican in a presidential election since 1988. Significantly, George W. Bush lost Pennsylvania in 2000 and 2004 despite spending more money and time there than Romney has in 2012.
- The logic of Beeson’s memo is backwards. Obama won in 2008 (and by a pretty big margin) so it only makes sense that he is defending the states he took four years ago, rather than trying to make inroads in states won by John McCain. And it is not news that this election is going to be a close one.
- Romney hasn’t visited Pennsylvania in weeks.
It looks like what is actually happening is that the Romney campaign is using Pennsylvania as a decoy, both to hammer in their “momentum” narrative and force their opponents to spend resources in a state that they previously considered safe. And Beeson is probably correct in arguing that the Obama ad buy in Pennsylvania is evidence that his team is playing defence. With the electoral map tightening elsewhere, the president can hardly afford to be complacent or cavalier with Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes.
There is also one wild card that could work in Romney’s favour: Hurricane Sandy. The storm struck huge swaths of Pennsylvania, causing serious damage in Philadelphia and surrounding counties. Democrats depend on winning high margins in this populous region to make up for lost votes in central and western Pennsylvania, which is more Republican-leaning. If the storm hurts voter turnout in Philadelphia, the state could actually be thrown back in play.
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