Analysis: Obama Campaign Will Need Pa., Where Support Has Slipped Since ’08

Borys Krawsczeniuk
Scranton Times Tribune

With his scheduled visit Wednesday to Scranton, President Barack Obama returns to a state he almost must win to be re-elected, but one where his fortunes have sharply reversed in little more than three years.

In 2008, Pennsylvania handed the president a 10.4 percentage-point victory over Republican Sen. John McCain, a double-digit margin no presidential candidate had achieved since President Richard M. Nixon in his 1972 re-election campaign. Mr. Nixon defeated Democratic Sen. George McGovern by almost 20 points.

The belief was that Mr. Obama’s unconventional campaign had attracted many voters who had never voted before and contributed to his margin, but recent polls show many state voters might have deserted him, at least temporarily.

“Every single poll taken has not been good for him in this state,” said Lance Stange Jr., chairman of the Lackawanna County Republican Party. “I think the polling suggests he needs to (be here) if he wants to win.”

The latest unfavorable poll arrived Tuesday, when the Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling firm showed almost exactly what polls by Franklin & Marshall College and Quinnipiac University showed in the last month.

In the poll, Mr. Obama’s approval rating in Pennsylvania had deteriorated to 42 percent approval of his job performance and 53 percent disapproval.

The poll surveyed 500 Pennsylvania voters from Nov. 17 and Nov. 20 and had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent. Less than five months ago, a Public Policy poll had Mr. Obama at 46 percent approval, 48 percent disapproval.

PPP says no polls in states Mr. Obama hopes to win next year have him worse off.

And make no mistake, the president must win Pennsylvania. To deny a Democratic presidential candidate a victory in Pennsylvania is the same as denying him or her the presidency. No Democrat has won the presidency without winning Pennsylvania since Harry Truman in 1948, when the majority of registered Pennsylvania voters were Republicans.

Mr. Obama’s saving grace in the Keystone state so far is still that he matches up well against the potential Republican nominees. Polls show him struggling only against former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney – Public Policy had them tied at 45 percent – but with leads outside the margin of error against Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry and Herman Cain.

Lackawanna County voted for Mr. Obama over Mr. McCain by a 62.6 percent to 36.6 percent margin, a winning percentage second only to Philadelphia – 83.1 percent for Mr. Obama – among the state’s 67 counties. Many attributed that to the county being the childhood home of Vice President Joe Biden, but it is also clear that many county and state Democrats took some time to acquire a taste for Mr. Obama, who lost the county to Hillary Clinton by a 3 to 1 margin in the state’s 2008 Democratic presidential primary.

Some Clinton Democrats, angry at her loss, even split off then and worked for Mr. McCain’s election.

“This part of the state is a swinging part of the state,” said Jean W. Harris, Ph.D., chairwoman of the University of Scranton political science department.

So swing-area Scranton could be a perfect place to start rebuilding his support with a visit billed as “official,” focused on passing a key part of his jobs plan and in a place at the heart of a metro area whose unemployment rate has been the state’s highest for 18 months.

To Dr. Harris, Mr. Obama’s re-election is the only reason to use Scranton as a backdrop now.

“I don’t think there’s any other reason for him to be coming to Scranton in late November 2011,” Dr. Harris said. “At this point, you know it’s a campaign visit.”

Mr. Stange said Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign is clearly “having some difficulty, and Scranton always seems to be the nexus in Pennsylvania.”

Translation: Mr. Obama’s visit here might not be his last, and expect to see the presidential candidates here a lot next year.


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