Analysts: Pennsylvania Prime Player For Fall

Salena Zito
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

One week out from Pennsylvania’s primary election, two high-profile political visits to Pittsburgh indicate the national campaigns are considering how the state might play in the November election.

“Pennsylvania will be the center of attention all the way up until Election Day,” Reince Priebus, chair of the Republican National Committee, told the Tribune-Review.

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney will meet with voters today at Bethel Park Community Center. First lady Michelle Obama will host fundraisers at Rivers Club, Downtown, and a private home for her husband’s Democratic re-election campaign after meeting with military families at Pittsburgh International Airport. All events are invitation-only.

“This is it. The race has begun,” said Julian Zelizer, political science professor at Princeton University. “Pennsylvania is one of a handful of big electoral battleground states where both campaigns are trying to win voters over early.”

The campaigns covet the state’s 20 electoral votes. They want to secure support among voters long before Election Day, ideally by September, Zelizer said.

“They want voters to have their decisions resolved early so they in turn can convince others, like family and friends, to share their decision,” he said.

Romney, President Obama and their surrogates will visit Western Pennsylvania often, predicts Dane Strother, a Washington-based Democratic media consultant.

“It is absolutely the stumping ground for both Obama and Romney,” Strother said, noting that candidates get a twofer here.

“You can attract voters in both Pennsylvania and Ohio, with the proximity to the Ohio border — two key states for both candidates,” he said. “Romney can snatch up voters who have lost their faith in Obama, while Obama can try to win them back and try to mitigate disaster with voters towards the center of the state.”

The first Gallup poll comparing Romney and Obama in a head-to-head election yesterday showed 47 percent of 2,265 registered voters nationwide support Romney and 45 percent back Obama. Two percent of voters supported another candidate, and 7 percent were undecided. The poll’s error margin of 3 percentage points makes it a statistical tie.

Daily tracking results from April 11-15 show both parties’ bases firmly backing their presumed nominees: 90 percent of Republicans favor Romney, and 90 percent of Democrats back Obama. Among independents who customarily decide presidential elections, Romney leads 45 percent to 39 percent, with 12 percent undecided.

“And that is why you will see both of these guys in Western Pennsylvania nonstop,” Strother said. “The voters in that region have begun to have less party identity and are thinking about themselves.”

Though polling numbers this early in the election year are not always a reliable indicator of the outcome, historically it’s an ominous indicator for an incumbent president to poll below 50 percent in the first trial heat. An Obama campaign spokesman would not comment on the latest daily tracking survey that shows his approval rating is 45 percent.

The Obama campaign yesterday said it would open its second field office in Pittsburgh, marking its 20th campaign office in the state.

Romney has one state office, in Harrisburg. He told the Trib that he plans to win Pennsylvania, though, something no Republican nominee has done since George H.W. Bush in 1988.

Personal visits and speeches will make the difference in an election that could be close, Zelizer said.

“Plan on seeing a lot of them in your area,” he said.

Read more: