When Mitt Romney’s bus tour pulls into Pennsylvania on Saturday, it will be entering a state no Republican candidate has won since George H.W. Bush in 1988. John McCain lost the state to Barack Obama by more than 10 points in 2008, and with 1 million more voters registered Democrat than Republican, it should be enemy territory for the Romney team.
But Romney will make three stops there on Saturday and this time the GOP thinks it can take the state and its 20 electoral votes. The presumptive nominee is sounding confident, telling a Philadelphia radio station this week, “We see Pennsylvania very much as being in play.”
“We’re very early in the process,” Romney said, somewhat hedging his bet. “People in Pennsylvania recognize that if we’re gonna get good manufacturing jobs back and a better future for the middle class, we’re gonna have to have a president that understands how the economy works, we’re gonna have to have a president that will take advantage of the oil and the coal and the natural gas which is plentiful in Pennsylvania.”
The polls show it will still be an uphill battle, but Republicans see encouragement in those numbers.
A Quinnipiac poll released this week showed President Obama ahead in the Keystone State by six points, 46% to 40%. That’s a slight decrease from the May Quinnipiac poll when Obama had an eight-point lead, 47% to 39%.
That’s raising spirits in the GOP. So is this number: Voters in the state said Romney would do a better job on the economy, 49% to Obama’s 41%. The same poll revealed 45 percent think Romney would create more jobs; 43% picked Obama on that question. Romney leads on handling the economy and job creation with independent voters, probably the best sign for Republicans in the poll.
The chairman of the Pennsylvania GOP, Rob Gleason, said it will be a “dog fight” in the state, adding, “We’re very positive we are going to be able to win Pennsylvania.”
However, just last month Gleason told Colby Itkowitz from the Allentown Morning Call that when Romney was in Harrisburg for a fundraiser, Gleason told him they would win Pennsylvania and Romney responded, “Really?”
“I don’t think anyone thinks we can carry Pennsylvania, I don’t think even Romney thinks we can win Pennsylvania; they’re not counting on it, but they’ll play here,” Gleason told the Morning Call. “We’re not asleep at the switch. We’ve been working on this for four years. This is the big one.”
When asked about the change in attitude, Gleason stressed he always thought the Republicans could win the state.
Pennsylvania is not on the Republican Party’s path-to-270 road map, but a win in the state would allow them to lose another tight battleground state. The last time Romney was in Pennsylvania was in April when he campaigned in the state with running mate contender Marco Rubio. Another possible Veepstakes “audition” will take place this weekend when Tim Pawlenty boards the bus to stump with Romney in New Hampshire on Friday and Pennsylvania on Saturday.
Gleason declined to get into specific strategy when asked, saying, “We have many, many strategies that are under way” and he feels Romney appeals to independents in the Lehigh Valley, a former steel hub and now one of the fastest growing parts of the state, as well as “values voters” in the southwest part of the state. Gleason added they have an “intensive Philadelphia effort” to improve Romney’s chances in those suburbs, which tend to be more liberal but can swing.
“We will be opening victory offices around the state,” Gleason said on a Republican National Committee conference call. “He’s going to be here many times, going around to meet the electorate so we have a whole host of campaign positions that we have and we will be working on. Remember, the election is still not until November and we are starting to show improvement already … and in almost every election, turnout is the most important thing, as was proved in Wisconsin just last week.”
The Romney camp and the RNC have seven campaign offices in Pennsylvania — the Obama campaign has 27 open so far — and an RNC aide says they will continue to add “in waves over the summer.”
GOP Congressman Charlie Dent, who represents the Lehigh Valley, likes Romney’s chances because of how his energy policy compares to that of the president’s. On the same RNC call, Dent said Obama has waged an “assault on coal” by trying to “raise the price of coal and make it not competitive.” Another point Republicans are pouncing on and sent out to their press list: a Democratic Congressman from the state, Mark Critz, actually sent out a statement blasting the president for his economic and energy policies, sent from his campaign office. It shows how despite the Democrats’ advantages in the state, it’s difficult for the president in the Rust Belt portion of Pennsylvania.
The Obama campaign hinted that part of its campaign strategy in the state would be to use Romney’s record in Massachusetts, calling the presumptive GOP nominee “out of touch” and questioning whether Republicans really do believe they can win in Pennsylvania.
“President Obama and middle-class Pennsylvanians know that America is stronger when hard work pays, responsibility is rewarded, and when everybody plays by the same rules,” Obama campaign spokesman Michael Czin told ABC News in a statement. “On the other hand, Mitt Romney is campaigning in support of the same failed policies that benefitted a few but crashed our economy and punished the middle class.”
Rick Santorum, a former Romney rival as well as a former senator from Pennsylvania, also believes “Pennsylvania is in play,” citing Gov. Scott Walker’s win in Wisconsin last week.
“If you saw what happened in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania is as much of a swing state, if you will, as Wisconsin is, and we saw the reaction of having a principled conservative stand up and boldly lead and I’m very hopeful that’s the message that will be delivered by Gov. Romney as we head down the stretch here,” Santorum told CNN’s John King, in the same interview he gave quite a tepid backing to his former opponent. “The economy in Pennsylvania is doing a little better because of the energy economy in our state. Barack Obama is not energy friendly and that’s not going to play well in major parts of our state and I think that’s one of the reasons it will stay in play.”
But don’t expect Santorum to be campaigning with his former foe in his home state Saturday along with Pawlenty. The Romney campaign has not reached out to Santorum to campaign with him, including not extending an invitation for this weekend. The two have not been on the trail together since Santorum endorsed Romney last month.