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Republicans, Democrats renew battle over Pennsylvania

October 30, 2012|By Colby Itkowitz, Allentown Morning Call
  • A fan at the NCAA football game in Pittsburgh between Pittsburgh and Temple wears a giant Mitt Romney cutout face.
A fan at the NCAA football game in Pittsburgh between Pittsburgh and Temple… (Keith Srakocic / Associated…)

After months of little political activity, Pennsylvania, along with its 20 electoral votes, is in play for the final week of the presidential campaign.

With polls showing the lean-blue state almost within reach, a "super PAC" supporting Mitt Romney announced Monday a last-minute $2.1-million statewide ad buy in Pennsylvania. The Obama campaign will defend its turf with a matching state buy. Then Tuesday the Romney campaign said it too would spend money on Pennsylvania television for the first time.

The Pennsylvania-specific Romney spot focuses on coal, saying that under the Obama administration 22 Pennsylvania coal facilities have been negatively impacted. The ad will play well in regions around Pittsburgh and Scranton and is an effort to offset the Democratic votes for Obama in populous Philadelphia.

Republicans say it's evidence that Pennsylvania is now winnable for Mitt Romney, while Democrats contend it's a head fake, an effort to distract the Obama team from the truly too-close-to-call states.

Either way, for the Republicans, there's little to lose.

"If I'm a presidential campaign, I want to exploit every opportunity I can," said Lara Brown, a Villanova University political science professor. "If these Republicans have money, it's time to go all in. You double-down on states you think you will win and spread chips to states you think you might."

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The airwaves in Pennsylvania have been devoid of presidential politics since late summer, when groups like Restore Our Future, which has spent $118 million nationally in an effort to get Romney elected to the White House, pulled out to invest elsewhere. The Obama campaign and the outside groups supporting the president pulled their ad money out of Pennsylvania too. The Romney campaign itself had yet to spend a dime on TV advertising in Pennsylvania after canceling a massive purchase there just before the April primary because its main competition, Rick Santorum, dropped out.

Pennsylvania, with 1 million more registered Democratic voters and a recent trend of voting for the Democratic presidential candidate, was viewed as safely in Obama's electoral column. The race for the White House played out in places like Ohio, Florida and Virginia, but Pennsylvania, long considered America's political microcosm, was left out.

But the Romney team, in a memo written by political director Rich Beeson, said that with momentum on their side, traditionally Democratic states, like Pennsylvania, are up for grabs.

"With one week to go, and 96% of the vote on the table on Election Day in Pennsylvania, this expansion of the electoral map demonstrates that Governor Romney's momentum has jumped containment from the usual target states and has spread to deeper blue states that Chicago never anticipated defending," Beeson wrote.

The Obama campaign swiftly responded with a quote from Gov. Ed Rendell, who has been warning for months that the Romney team could make a last-minute play for the state.

"Let me make myself clear: President Obama will win Pennsylvania, and Mitt Romney’s attempt to make a play for this state is more of a sign of desperation on his part than anything else," Rendell said. "This is part of the old Republican playbook. They tried a last ditch attempt to expand the electoral base in 2008 when they were losing Ohio, Iowa, Florida and other traditional battleground states. Mitt Romney ignored Pennsylvania over the course of the last two years, and didn’t ask Pennsylvanians for their vote. A week of advertising won’t change that."

John Brabender, a veteran GOP consultant with offices in Pennsylvania and the Washington, D.C., area, said Romney and his supporters wouldn't be spending its money in the state if it didn't believe that winning was a possibility. The latest polls show Obama ahead, but by less than they did weeks before. Real Clear Politics has Obama up by an average of 4.7 percentage points.

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"They are expanding areas where they have legitimate possibilities," said Brabender, who advised Rick Santorum's presidential campaign. "They're not looking for a close second."

Neil Oxman, a Philadelphia-based Democratic consultant, called it a "fake-out."

"You have some of these groups spending money and saying, 'Well, even if we don't win Pennsylvania we're going to force the Obama people to take money away from the real battleground states to spend money here for insurance,' " Oxman said. "The Obama camp is smart. They can't let Pennsylvania slip away, and unanswered money is stupid."

The Obama campaign would not say whether its Pennsylvania ad would be a pro-Obama spot or an attack on Romney.

The new Romney super PAC buy, which will include the crucial Philadelphia media market, hits Obama on the economy, saying high unemployment and crushing debt are "the new normal" in his administration.

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