If Republican Mitt Romney scores an upset and snatches Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes away from President Obama, it will largely be because of voters like Norma Fae Morris.
The 83-year-old woman from this tiny blue-collar town of fewer than 300 people voted for the president four years ago, helping him take the Keystone State by more than 10 points.
But now Ms. Morris, a former school bus driver, tax collector and military wife, said Mr. Obama may not get her vote in November, a feeling shared by many as polls continue to tighten in Pennsylvania and in other battleground states.
“I don’t know yet. I don’t think either one of them [Romney or Obama] is going to help that much,” she said as she carefully folded clothes inside a small, run-down laundromat in the neighboring town of Graysville, tucked away in the mountains of Greene County along the West Virginia border.
“I watched the debate last night,” she continued, discussing Monday night’s foreign policy forum. “I’m just not convinced. I’ll be glad when this election is over.”
Ms. Morris stressed that she isn’t sold on Mr. Romney, either, but the significant drop in enthusiasm for Mr. Obama has put in play a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988. Recent polling has Mr. Romney down by only 4 points in Pennsylvania, 50 percent to 46 percent among likely voters.
A month ago, the president led by 12 points.
The shift in voter sentiment has spilled over into the state’s Senate race. Once thought to be a lock, Democratic Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. now leads his Republican opponent, Tom Smith, by just 3 points, recent polls show.
To win Pennsylvania, Mr. Romney — who has yet to mount a serious advertising campaign in the state — needs to turn in strong showings in the southeastern and southwestern corners of the state. Philadelphia County and surrounding counties went heavily for Mr. Obama in 2008, while he also won Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County by 15 points and picked up wins in places such as Cambria County, home of the popular late Rep. John Murtha, a Democratic icon.
Support for the president remains strong in the state’s urban centers, particularly Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. During Monday night’s debate, dozens of Obama supporters packed a bar in downtown Pittsburgh, cheering on the president and mocking many of Mr. Romney’s statements.
The city itself may not be in play, but its suburbs, along with those outside Philadelphia, could be a much different story, and there’s dwindling support for Mr. Obama in many of those areas.
“I’ve been a business owner for 25 years. [Romney’s] message is a lot stronger with me than Obama’s,” said Jack Carroll, who operates a marketing firm in the Pittsburgh suburb of Upper St. Clair.
“I feel like Romney has a good chance,” he said Monday evening as he stood outside a Republican-sponsored debate-watching party in Mount Lebanon, just outside the city.
The farther outside Pennsylvania’s major cities one goes, the more potent the frustration toward Mr. Obama becomes. It’s driven in large part by the administration’s so-called “war on coal,” the implementation of new environmental regulations that have already begun to cost mining jobs and shut down coal-fired power plants.
Throughout western Pennsylvania, signs reading “Stop the war on coal: Fire Obama” can be seen. Many billboards carry similar messages, and Mr. Romney has tried to capitalize on the trend that is a central issue to voters in Greene County and elsewhere in the state.
During the first presidential debate, Mr. Romney flatly stated “I like coal,” positioning himself on the side of American fossil fuels and depicting the president as interested only in more taxpayer-funded “green” energy projects.
Despite the tightening in the polls and anti-Obama sentiment, Democratic strongholds led by Philadelphia and Pittsburgh but also including Scranton, Harrisburg, Allentown and others provide the incumbent’s campaign something of a firewall.
“The race has gotten tighter, but I still think it’s a tough hurdle for Romney to win the state,” said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. “If Romney thought that he could win, they would be here and they would be advertising. There’s plenty of electoral votes here.”