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Romney makes first visit to Pennsylvania since July

September 28, 2012|By Colby Itkowitz
(JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GettyImages )

PHILADELPHIA -- When state Republican Chairman Rob Gleason sees Mitt Romney on Friday morning at a Philadelphia fundraiser, he'll advise the GOP presidential candidate to make a play for Pennsylvania.

"We really understand our electorate, and governor, you are in the position to win Pennsylvania," Gleason said he will tell Romney. "But you will need to close the deal."

Pennsylvania Republicans have tried to keep alive hopes of a Romney win in the state, even as the national campaign has all but written it off. It is Romney's first visit to the state since July.

Neither his campaign nor President Obama's is spending a dime on television advertising in the state. Gleason said the state party will air a pro-Romney ad this week in western Pennsylvania.

But polls show the race may be tightening. A new Morning Call/Muhlenberg College state poll puts the race at a 7 percentage-point advantage for Obama, down from 10 points in August.

No Republican nominee has won Pennsylvania since George H.W. Bush in 1988. State Republicans argue that Romney should at least try.

Romney will hold a public rally at Valley Forge Military Academy in southeastern Pennsylvania, a region thick with the suburban swing voters who overwhelmingly supported Obama in 2008.

Some supporters see the stop, a last-minute addition to his schedule, as a trial run on whether Pennsylvania and its 20 electoral votes are worth pursuing.

It comes after a closed-door fundraiser at the Union League in Philadelphia, a 150-year-old members club that is decorated with portraits of Republican presidents and ornate stained glass windows. The event was expected to net the campaign $3.5 million or more.

“We really would shock people if early in the evening on Nov. 6 it looked like Pennsylvania was going to come our way," Romney said at the beginning of his remarks. He became a bit more optimistic in his closing, saying he will win the state.

Romney was introduced by U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a conservative who jokingly asked the crowd if they remembered when “all the smart guys” said he could never win a general election in Pennsylvania.

Charlie Gerow, a Harrisburg GOP consultant who worked on Newt Gingrich's failed presidential campaign, is not surprised that the Romney camp scheduled a public event in the Philadelphia exurbs.

"In a sense, Mitt Romney is tailor-made for that constituency," Gerow said. He described the area as home to "a sophisticated electorate."

Lara Brown, a political science professor at Villanova University, considers it unlikely that the Philadelphia suburbs would swing for Romney, but she thinks he can make the race competitive and force Obama's campaign to focus more on the state.

"What campaigns are doing is, they're not trying to win, but they're trying to throw their opponent off," she said. "At some level [Romney's camp] might want to spend a little time here, make it look like they know something the Obama team doesn't."

To be sure, Romney has staff and offices in Pennsylvania and a well-constructed ground operation in place, but nothing draws like the candidate himself.

Bruce Haynes, a Washington GOP media consultant, suggested that the Romney campaign may be seeing a shift in the electoral map and sensing opportunities to peel away votes in the eastern part of the state, so "they'll go in and launch that missile and see if it finds a target."

Bob Asher, a national Republican committeeman from Montgomery County and close to the national Romney team, said Ann Romney is planning a trip to Pennsylvania in October. One of the Romney sons is planning to tailgate at the Philadelphia Eagles game on Sunday.

"We are definitely poised to win Pennsylvania," Asher said. "It all proves that we have not written off the state."

citkowitz@mcall.com

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