Despite Polls, Romney Camp Sees Opportunity in Pa.

Despite Polls, Romney Camp Sees Opportunity in Pa.

By Scott Conroy - August 6, 2012

Though both sides are adept at putting the most favorable spin on their electoral prospects, strategists for the Obama and Romney campaigns largely agree on which so-called swing states are truly up for grabs and which ones clearly lean a particular way.

But perhaps the most glaring exception to that broad consensus is Pennsylvania, where the two camps are working under widely divergent assessments of how the race is shaping up.

Despite earnest assurances that they are taking nothing for granted, a commonly held view among the president’s re-election team is that the Keystone State is all but in the bag. Romney’s team, on the other hand, has long been eyeing it as a realistic and potentially decisive pickup for the Republican challenger.

“When you talk about Pennsylvania, the Obama campaign is going to roll their eyes,” said Romney’s political director, Rich Beeson. “They don’t know it, but it’s rotten underneath for them.”

At first glance, there is little empirical evidence to back up that claim.

The president has been ahead in every Pennsylvania poll since Romney became the GOP nominee, and he leads the Republican challenger by seven percentage points in the latest RCP polling average.

A Republican presidential candidate has not won there since 1988, though it has served as fool’s gold for every recent GOP nominee. In 2008, for example, John McCain’s campaign continued to push hard in Pennsylvania long after they had given up on other states he had hoped to take from the Democratic column, such as Michigan.

More frequently than elsewhere, the campaign dispatched Sarah Palin to Pennsylvania, where the vice-presidential nominee chided Obama for his remarks at a San Francisco fundraiser, in which he referred to small-town Pennsylvania as a place where people “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them.”

Republican attempts to exploit the apparent cultural gap that had played a role in Obama’s Pennsylvania primary loss to Hillary Clinton did not work, as the Democratic standard-bearer won the state by a convincing 10 percent margin over McCain.

When asked about the Romney campaign’s insistence that Pennsylvania is in play this time, laughter may be the most common response from Democratic strategists. What typically follows is the boilerplate (if undeniably true) addendum that the president’s campaign is taking nothing for granted there.

The Obama camp has long had a massive ground operation in the state and has aired TV ads as well, though it recently scaled back its paid advertising effort.

Romney, on the other hand, has not yet aired any general election ads in the state.

Mary Isenhour, a longtime Democratic strategist in Pennsylvania, said she hopes the opposition campaign truly believes it has a viable path in the state, so that they will spend money there in vain.

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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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