Pennsylvania: The GOP’s elusive white whale


    Alas, Pennsylvania’s TV viewers are poised to receive one last burst of campaign propaganda. The Romney campaign, and its plutocratic super PAC allies, are putting ads up on the air as the clock winds down. Team Mitt says its decision to focus anew on the Keystone State is proof that the guy has “momentum” and that he now has the luxury to “expand the map.”

    That’s a crock. Spending $5 million in Pennsylvania on the final weekend is not a sign of political health. It’s a symptom of desperation.

    Romney’s momentum, which was sparked by one debate victory four weeks ago, has largely evaporated. He leads consistently (albeit narrowly) in only one of the eight swing states, North Carolina. He consistently trails by a small yet stubbornly persistent margin in the most important swing state, Ohio. As a result, he has few paths to 270 electoral votes. Hence the decision to target Pennsylvania, as well as traditionally blue Minnesota. This is not about “expanding the map.” This is about a desperate candidate who needs to forge new paths to 270 at the very last minute.

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    And it’s extremely unlikely that a passel of new Romney campaign ads, coupled with ads from the right-wing Koch brothers (who hide behind the innocuously named “Americans for Prosperity”) will swing Pennsylvania into the red column. Pennsylvania hasn’t voted Republican since 1988; even George W. Bush, buttressed by the perks of incumbency, lost the state by several percentage points in 2004. Mitt Romney is hardly the guy to turn things around; his deficiencies are bad enough, but party label he wears is even worse.

    Pennsylvania is the GOP’s elusive white whale. Every four years, the party rededicates itself to winning the state, but in the end it always seems to slip away. The big reason should be obvious by now. The party’s ever-rightward tilt is anathema to the well-educated and affluent denizens of the Philadelphia suburbs. They’re the most vote-rich cohort of the electorate, and the socially conservative GOP turns them off. I’m not talking about the Democratic voters; I’m talking about the folks who grew up as moderate Republicans and began to bail in droves back in the ’90s.

    What I’m experiencing now is deja vu. As the clock ticked down in 2008, a desperate John McCain decided to focus anew on Pennsylvania. In the final week, he suddenly upped his statewide ad expenditures by 35 percent, and he stumped in Pennsylvania on the final Sunday, declaring, “I want to repeat to you one more time, my friends – we’re going to win!” He lost Pennsylvania by double digits.

    It’s hard to envision Romney losing Pennsylvania by double digits, but there are simply too few votes in the southwestern coal region, and in the culturally conservative towns, to offset Obama’s strength in the more populous southeast. And deep down, the Mitt team knows this. Just take a look at where Romney is slated to be stumping in the final days: Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Florida.

    He’d be stumping in Pennsylvania if he really thought he had a shot. Which proves that he’s not “expanding the map.” That was just a cover story, to mask the fact that he’s imperiled and that his map is shrinking. If he really wanted to come clean about Pennsylvania, his flaks would be saying, “We are well positioned to lose the state by a smaller margin than John McCain!” That one I would believe.


    Romney last year, on federal disaster relief: “Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.”

    Romney, yesterday: “I believe that FEMA plays a key role in working with states and localities to prepare for and respond to natural disaster. As president, I will ensure FEMA has the funding it needs to fulfill its mission.”

    The weather vane stops whirling in five days. Or maybe four years.


    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1


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