Pennsylvania has long been considered a battleground state. But the last week has marked a change in campaign spending.
Consider the contrast.”This is great to be in Cornwall, a historic place,” Mitt Romney called out to cheers during a campaign visit to Lebanon County in June. “By the way, where do you get your hoagies, here? Do you get them at Wawas?”
Now? There’s silence.
Chris Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, says it’s been an “amazingly quiet” time to be a political analyst in Pennsylvania.
“I mean, in past years, I’m fielding dozens of calls a week from reporters all over the country interested in Pennsylvania,” Borick says. “That interest just isn’t there this year.”
Shortly after the Republican National Convention, two Romney-allied super PACs announced they would pull their television ads out of Pennsylvania, saying the state isn’t competitive for Romney at the moment.
A superPAC supporting President Barack Obama followed suit, citing polls showing the commonwealth is leaning toward Obama. Then, the president’s own re-election campaign halted ads.
Lancaster’s Franklin and Marshall College pollster Terry Madonna says political ad buys are just one metric of whether a state still has its swing.
Still, “that’s pretty telling when you consider the fact that four years ago, when you look at the entire presidential campaign in its totality, more money was spent on Pennsylvania television than any other state in the union,” Madonna said.
In recent elections, Dems’ edge has ebbed
Pennsylvania has gone Democratic in the last five presidential elections.
But the last two have been close, with a 10-point margin in 2008, and a three-point margin in 2004.
The state’s latest voter registration count shows Democrats with a roughly 1 million registration advantage, but analysts say for a number of reasons, the apparent edge isn’t one of the top determining factors in which way the state leans in a presidential election.
Pollsters say there are two things that could bring campaign money back to Pennsylvania in a big way — another battleground state could become safer for one candidate, or the race could tighten here in the commonwealth.
And though the campaigns are holding onto their money, when it comes to the airwaves, members of both parties are beating the same “it ain’t over ’til it’s over” drum.
Gov. Tom Corbett isn’t ready to call a time of death on the state’s battleground status.”Well, I think it’s a mistake on the part of the campaigns. I think Pennsylvania is still very much in play in my travel across the state,” Corbett said. “Obviously, they’re looking at where they’re going to spend money around the country. I’m looking at Pennsylvania, I think Pennsylvania’s a very competitive state.”
And he’s not the only one who says so.
Complacency is another opponent
Former Gov. Ed Rendell told Pennsylvania Democrats at the convention in Charlotte last week not to rest easy, thinking they’ve bagged the commonwealth already.
Rendell warned them that the GOP could launch a media blitz in the last few weeks of the campaign, shrinking what’s become a comfortable lead for Obama.
Political science professor Michael Federici of Mercyhurst University in Erie says he’s not buying Rendell’s “mind the trap” argument.
“I don’t think it’s a credible theory, but I think it makes sense to say that because the last thing you want is for voters in your state to become complacent,” Federici said.
Since the super PACs and campaigns collectively wrote off Pennsylvania for the time being, the chairman of the state Republican Party released a statement touting its 24 field offices. Corbett and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey have announced they’re heading the grass-roots campaign to elect Romney.
Analyst Madonna says those efforts aren’t just about the presidential race.
“Here’s what they’re afraid of — that their voters will stay home. That there will, that that will diminish turnout,” Madonna said.
After all, Republicans hold the state House and Senate — and make up the majority of the commonwealth’s Congressional delegation. They want to keep it that way come November.