Last Presidential election was a really fun and busy time to be a journalist in Pennsylvania. The candidates courted the Keystone State like she was the belle of the ball.
There was Barack Obama’s rally in the rain at Widener University and who could forget the McCain event in Downingtown when “Joe the Plumber” was all the rage and some attendees even brought their own plungers.
Those were some pretty exciting times.
This go around, the presidential candidates have stopped by the Keystone State some – but lately those visits have been few and far between. And in one of the clearest signs that something’s different, neither candidate is buying TV ad time in the state.
Is it possible that for the first time in decades, Pennsylvania has fallen out of the coveted “swing state” category?
CNN, Fox News, and political pundits across the country love to talk about the swing states…
“Most people don’t think Pennsylvania’s a swing state,” said Larry Sabato, the Director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “Most people didn’t think it was a swing state in 2008 and in fact it wasn’t – Obama carried it easily.”
“We all remember circumstances like 2000 when George W. Bush contested Pennsylvania strongly, even held his convention there, it made absolutely no difference – Al Gore won it easily,” said Sabato. “You know I just have to say in general Pennsylvania isn’t a swing state in Presidential elections!”
The state has shifted, says John Kennedy, an Associate professor of political science at West Chester University.
“The bottom line is, it’s really not a swing state right now,” said Kennedy. “It really can’t be considered a true battleground until the Romney campaign and the national GOP and outside groups decide to spend money in it. Until that time, it’s really just wishful thinking.”
There are reasons to think Republicans should have a shot at Pennsylvania. The governor is Republican. Both houses of the legislature are controlled by GOP, and the state just elected a conservative Republican to the U.S. Senate.
Kennedy says a couple of things have happened:
“The suburbs – once the linchpin of the Republican party state wide – the four suburbs you know they’ve become more Democratic,” said Kennedy.
Diane Giovinco of Royersford works for an auto parts manufacturer in Wayne. She grew up in a Republican household.
“I registered to vote when I was 18 and I guess because my family was Republican I registered Republican,” said Giovinco. “I remember feeling like it didn’t really matter which party you were registered with – and then four to eight years ago I remember thinking: ‘I better register what I really am because I don’t even want to be counted as a Republican.’ I felt more in line with the Democratic party – in a nutshell.”
Charlie Mahtesian, Politico’s national politics editor, offers this analogy:
“In many ways Pennsylvania is like Charlie Brown and the football that Lucy keeps pulling away,” said Mahtesian. “Every four years Pennsylvania looks pretty attractive to Republicans and there’s certainly a Republican base there.”
Charlie Brown, that is, the Republicans have spent money and time here for decades, but they haven’t carried the state for the presidential ticket since 1988.
But Pennsylvania still matters, kind of.
A few months ago Mahtesian wrote an article calling Pennsylvania a “soft swing” state:
“To me there’s a distinction between the hard swing states and the soft. The hard ones are the ones everybody can agree on – that all the spending is taking place in, where all the candidate time is being spent, and Pennsylvania is no longer one of those states. It’s not a state that’s been written off yet. It’s a state that Republicans still hold out some hope for but at the end of the day it’s not one of the top nine.”
So while many agree Pennsylvania’s not a swing state — it still has that purple state potential to get at least some attention come election season. Though he’s still not advertising here, Mitt Romney held a rally in Wayne last Friday.