Election Blitz Hits Philly

Wilkes-Barre Times Leader

Philadelphia and its heavily populated suburbs were the big focus of candidates’ attention on Sunday in Pennsylvania, just two days before voters pull the lever in a state that has emerged as a battleground for control of the White House and the U.S. Senate.

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney was to headline a Bucks County rally Sunday evening, capping an 11th-hour Republican blitz to win a state that has voted for Democrats in the last five presidential elections and many had believed its crucial 20 electoral votes would be in President Barack Obama’s column this time around, too.

Thousands of people streamed into the Sunday night rally at Shady Brook Farm in suburban Bucks County. The stands were full, hundreds gathered in a field and hundreds more waited to gain entrance before Romney arrived for the event.

Earlier Sunday at a convention of the blue-collar Union of Operating Engineers Local 542 in Fort Washington, both Republicans — U.S. Reps. Pat Meehan and Mike Fitzpatrick — and Democrats — U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and attorney general nominee Kathleen Kane — came to receive endorsements from a politically mixed crowd of hundreds.

At least one, Dan Young of Havertown, said he had not decided for whom to vote in the presidential race. The registered Republican voted for Obama in 2008, but is worried that the economy did not improve, as he had hoped it would when he voted for Obama four years ago. But a perceived Republican assault on the rights of labor unions also weighed on his mind, he said.

Obama, Casey and Kane each lead in independent polls in Pennsylvania, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 4-3. While others interviewed at the union convention had made up their minds in the presidential race, many were still learning the names of the candidates for U.S. Senate and attorney general.

Pennsylvania is key to Obama’s re-election chances. The traditional battleground state is a top Electoral College prize, and no Democrat has won the White House without Pennsylvania in 64 years. Also, Democrats are counting on a Casey victory to maintain control of the chamber. But Casey is on course to be outspent by his Republican opponent, Tom Smith, by a margin of two-to-one, and polls in the race have narrowed enough to call into question whether the political scion can hang onto his seat.

In the campaign’s final days, Romney is making a concerted push into Pennsylvania, aided by outside political groups spending millions of dollars on last-minute ads to try to erode Obama’s support from 2008, when he won the state by more than 10 percentage points. Polling shows Obama holding on to a 4 or 5 percentage point lead over Romney, but the GOP candidate has been gaining ground.

With 1 in 5 of Pennsylvania’s registered voters living there, the heavily populated, moderate suburbs of Chester, Delaware, Bucks and Montgomery counties are a reliable predictor of who will win the state. Voters there are highly educated and accustomed to splitting their tickets. The number grows to one in three registered Pennsylvania voters when counting the heavily Democratic city of Philadelphia.

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