BY DANIEL VICTOR
Of The Patriot-News
When a presidential candidate visits a town just two weeks before an election, that suggests it’s a pretty significant area.
To visit the same region again just a week before Election Day, well, we must really be important.
Republican presidential nominee John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, will hold a rally at the Giant Center in Hershey on Tuesday. McCain spoke at The Forum in Harrisburg this week, after Palin visited Lancaster Saturday.
For McCain, that’s two of the final 14 days spent making midstate appearances. The campaign is hoping a strong central Pennsylvania turnout can offset what’s expected to be a big lead in Philadelphia for Barack Obama , the Democratic presidential nominee.
“You’re seeing a historic level of commitment from the candidate to Pennsylvania,” said Peter Feldman, a McCain campaign spokesman.
Strategists could draw up scenarios that put McCain in the White House without Pennsylvania, but winning here could be necessary given McCain’s struggles holding on to several states President Bush won in 2004.
Meanwhile, despite Gov. Ed Rendell’s public pleas, the Obama campaign has not announced any plans for Obama or his running mate, Joe Biden, to visit the state.
To maintain what most pollsters said is a double-digit percentage lead, the Obama campaign has relied on an active grass-roots network, visits from surrogates and a money edge to air more TV ads.
“We hope to have Senator Obama and Senator Biden back,” said Andrea Mead, an Obama spokeswoman in Pennsylvania. “But there are a lot of states in play in this election, and he’s running a 50-state, unprecedented campaign here.”
Both campaigns have said they’re ignoring the polls, most of which suggest Pennsylvania is safely Obama country. The Big Ten Battleground Poll, released Thursday, has Obama leading 52 percent to 41 percent.
A Real Clear Politics average of several polls has Obama up by 10.7 percentage points.
For McCain to make up that kind of gap this close to the election would be historic, analysts said. Some called for McCain to divert time and resources to more competitive states, such as Ohio, Florida or Nevada.
If McCain loses some of the states Bush won — he now trails in Colorado, North Carolina and Virginia — he could negate some of that damage by taking Pennsylvania.
“He needs to roll the dice in some big places,” said Christopher Borick, a pollster at Muhlenberg College. “And one of the big jackpots out there that you can still somehow pull off would be a place like Pennsylvania.”
It’s a risky strategy, since such an investment in Pennsylvania pulls him away from other battlegrounds, Borick said.
“What you can do is motivate those who are already committed to you to actually turn out to vote,” said Tony May of Triad Strategies in Harrisburg.
May, a former press secretary for two Democratic governors, said McCain has more incentive to visit the midstate than Obama because of the strong Republican backing here.
“McCain has to try to wring out every last vote out of York and Lancaster and Cumberland County that he possibly can to offset what is likely going to be a huge advantage for Obama coming out of southeastern Pennsylvania,” May said.
With McCain making several visits to the state, it begs the question: Should Obama visit, too?
“Maybe I’m just thinking as someone who lives here, but I wouldn’t neglect Pennsylvania if I were Obama ,” said Jeremy Plant, a political science professor at Penn State Harrisburg. “He can’t afford to take it for granted yet.”
Obama was in Indiana on Thursday and then flew to Hawaii to visit his ailing grandmother.
Rendell said this week that he has written Obama ‘s national campaign, urging the Democratic nominee to return to Pennsylvania.
Chuck Ardo, Rendell’s spokesman, said the governor has not heard back but expects “a positive response.”