In Shift, Romney Campaign Approaches Pennsylvania With A New Urgency

New York Times

First there was quiet. Then came the “super PACs.” Now the candidate is on his way.

In a striking last-minute shift, the Romney campaign has decided to invest its most precious resource — the candidate’s time — in a serious play to win Pennsylvania.

Mr. Romney’s appearance here on Sunday could be a crafty political move to seriously undercut President Obama, or it could be a sign of desperation. Either way, his visit represents the biggest jolt yet in a state that was until recently largely ignored in the race for the White House.

Over the last several days, with polls showing Mr. Obama’s edge in the state narrowing, Republicans have sprung into action and forced the Democrats to spend resources here that could have gone toward more competitive battleground states.

Conservative super PACs dusted off old advertisements that had not been shown in weeks and shipped them to local television stations from Scranton to Pittsburgh. They ordered millions of dollars in airtime.

And overnight the race here became the most expensive test yet of whether Republicans and their armies of cash-flush outside groups could unsettle the race at the last minute.

The super PACs helped create an opening that paved the way for the Romney campaign to start making its move. The campaign has already invested $1 million in television advertising across the state, and on Thursday it bolstered that effort even further with a new round of commercials that will ensure a heavy and continuous presence through Election Day.

This came as the Republican National Committee made one of its largest commitments of the race so far, dropping $2.5 million into the state.

Forced to respond, the Obama campaign has put more than $1.5 million into an ad campaign here and is planning even more. Democrats are saying that the race is much closer than they would have guessed just a week ago.

“It’s a little tighter than I would have expected,” said Jef Pollock, a pollster for Priorities U.S.A. Action, a Democratic super PAC. “But the question is whether this is just the natural tightening that’s going to happen.”

Pennsylvania has voted for the Democratic presidential nominee in every election for the last 20 years. Independent pollsters have called it the Republicans’ white whale. Indeed, polls show Mr. Obama ahead, albeit by a shrinking margin. And his senior political strategist, David Axelrod, even joked this week that he would shave off his mustache of 40 years if they lose here.

But there is a tangible sense — seen in Romney yard signs on the expansive lawns of homes in the well-heeled suburbs, and heard in the excited voices of Republican mothers who make phone calls to voters in their spare time — that the race is tilting toward Mr. Romney.

If ever there were a place where a last-ditch torrent of money could move the needle, this is it. For the last couple of months, there has been a void of presidential ads in Pennsylvania. So when Republican strategists looked for places where their money could go the furthest, they set their sights here, reasoning that a dollar spent in Erie or Altoona would have a greater impact than in a place like Las Vegas or Cleveland, where political commercials have clogged the airwaves.

Republicans believe that even if they cannot stop the president from winning the state — and rob him of its crucial 20 electoral votes — they can cut into his margins with certain key demographics. Mr. Obama carried the state by 10 points in 2008, a victory in large part because of strong support in Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs, some of which he carried by 20 points.

But those counties, which are full of upper-middle-class women and Jewish voters, are precisely the places where Republicans believe their efforts are paying off most.

“The biggest drop-off for the president has been in these more suburban, upper-class areas,” said Jim Lee, the president of Susquehanna Polling and Research, a Republican firm. “The women there tend to be very moderate, pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-gay rights. And they don’t fear a Romney presidency like they would maybe a Rick Santorum presidency. I don’t think Obama has been able to convince them that Romney is a radical.”

Liberal groups like Planned Parenthood said that some of the Republicans’ recent messaging is helping the Republican close the gap with women. Among recent ads is one in which a woman directly refutes Obama ads that portray Mr. Romney as extreme on reproductive health issues.

To counteract this push, Planned Parenthood is leaving leaflets that resemble a pink wallet at the doorsteps of homes across the state. In it, women read that “Electing Mitt Romneycould cost you $407,000,” a plea to the pocketbook issues that both sides believe are motivating women this year.

But as Democratic groups and the Obama campaign press their case, the Republicans have a formidable operation of their own. For months now, a locally based group called Let Freedom Ring says it has spent more than $2 million on an online ad campaign that has been viewed 30 million times. It targets women who visit the Web sites of HGTV, Vogue and People with ads that run before online videos.

In one, a young woman asks her friend about Mitt Romney. “I don’t know. He’s not as cool. And he’s a Republican,” she responds before deciding that yes, she will go with “Mr. Dependable” over “Mr. Cool.”

Americans for Prosperity, the conservative advocacy group financed with the help of the Koch brothers, has a chapter here that says it has made more than 200,000 phone calls in October. Many of the callers, they say, are mothers who volunteer from home.

“This is perfect for women,” said Jennifer Sefano, the group’s director in Pennsylvania. “You don’t have to pay for a baby sitter. You don’t even have to leave the house.”

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