Despite Polls, Romney Camp Sees Opportunity in Pa.

By Scott Conroy - August 6, 2012

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“Up until the very end, most people are going to say it’s a swing state, and anything can happen between now and November,” Isenhour said. “But I think the president’s numbers that we’re seeing right now are really good, and something dramatic would have to happen to change that.”

In addition to the encouraging poll numbers, Obama strategists are quick to note the trump card the president carries in the form of Scranton native Joe Biden, whose visceral appeal to blue-collar voters becomes apparent with each “God love ya” and “I’m not making this up, folks” that he utters during frequent visits to hardscrabble locales in the state.

If Romney does capture Pennsylvania in 2012, one line of thinking goes, that result would all but certainly herald a national blowout for the Republican, so why bother investing seriously there when other swing states will make or break a close election?

But Romney strategists envision what they say is a realistic scenario whereby the former Massachusetts governor loses one or two tossup states (where recent demographic shifts have created shaky terrain for a GOP presidential candidate) but more than makes up the difference by pulling off a Pennsylvania upset.

For instance, Romney could negate potential losses in both Nevada and Colorado (whose combined electoral votes total 15) by winning the Keystone State’s 20 electoral votes.

Romney’s commitment to Pennsylvania has been evidenced by his five trips there since May, and campaign strategists say that TV ads might begin after Aug. 29, when the candidate officially becomes the GOP nominee following a roll call vote at the Republican convention in Tampa.

At that moment, Romney’s massive general election war chest will become available for the final two months of the campaign.

The Obama camp is particularly skeptical about the chances of a late Romney push, but one reason to believe otherwise is that very few Pennsylvania voters -- in contrast to those in other swing states -- cast their ballots before Election Day.

Only 4 percent of Pennsylvania’s votes were cast early in 2008, a number that is expected to be repeated in 2012.

Republicans and neutral observers alike have questioned the methodology of early polls in the state that have shown Obama comfortably ahead, and they point to several factors that have tilted the political landscape toward the GOP.

Citing a declining voter registration deficit with Democrats  and particularly strong pushback against the president’s policies on coal and natural gas -- energy resources that fuel the economy in large swaths of the state -- local Republicans hope that Pennsylvania will prove to be hospitable terrain for a Republican nominee who hails from the northeast.

“If we win Pennsylvania, it’s done,” said David James, a Romney strategist in the state. “There’s no scenario for President Obama to win without Pennsylvania.”

Another potentially key factor is that former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell -- whose heralded political operation was widely credited with helping Obama draw a record turnout around Philadelphia -- is no longer in office after being succeeded by Republican Tom Corbett in 2011.

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Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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