CLIPS: Can McCain win in Pennsylvania? (10/17/08)

Of The Patriot-News

To analysts and pollsters watching the presidential campaign, it’s a no-brainer: Pennsylvania’s deeply blue.

Some said Republican presidential candidate John McCain should heed polls that give his Democratic rival, Barack Obama , solid double-digit leads in the state, abandon ship and divert spending to more competitive states such as Ohio, Florida, Nevada and Colorado.

But neither campaign sees it that way.

Republicans said the state is still for grabs and Democrats said it’s no time to ease up. McCain and Michelle Obama spent Thursday in Pennsylvania, while McCain’s running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, will visit Lancaster on Saturday.

More visits from both sides are sure to follow.

“We have our own polls, and we have much closer numbers,” Pennsylvania GOP spokesman Mike Barley said. “I’m obviously not making that up. Otherwise you wouldn’t see John McCain and Sarah Palin in the state so much.”

Nor has the Obama campaign begun a victory lap.

“We’re not paying attention to the polls, just like we weren’t paying attention to the polls when they were saying it was neck and neck,” said Andrea Mead, an Obama spokeswoman.

A Muhlenberg College/Morning Call poll released Wednesday had Obama ahead 52 percent to 38 percent in Pennsylvania. A Real Clear Politics average of polls has Obama with a 13.6 percentage point lead here.

Though recent presidential elections have been close, the state hasn’t voted for a Republican candidate since George Bush in 1988.

Yet the campaigns are continuing to battle here.

From Sept. 28 to Oct. 4, McCain spent $1.6 million on advertising in Pennsylvania, his second-highest total in a state. Obama spent $2.2 million, his third-highest total. The figures are the most recent available from the Wisconsin Advertising Project.

In that time, Harrisburg was McCain’s seventh-most-frequent target market in the country, ahead of even Philadelphia.

Barley said that was to ensure high voter turnout in the base and to harness the enthusiasm that was ignited when Palin joined the ticket.

Palin has visited the state several times, including an appearance at a Philadelphia Flyers game to drop a ceremonial first puck.

“The more we see John McCain and Sarah Palin here, the better off our numbers are,” Barley said.

Meanwhile, Obama has been in Pennsylvania seven days since June, and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden, has made four visits.

Analysts have questioned the wisdom of both campaigns using money and time in what appears to be a signed, sealed and delivered state. McCain recently pulled his resources out of Michigan after the chances of winning appeared slim.

“I do not think Pennsylvania is up for grabs,” said Shirley Anne Warshaw, a Gettysburg College political expert. “I think Pennsylvania is absolutely a solid blue state.”

Warshaw cited the Democrats’ 1.1 million lead in registered voters. That resulted from aggressive registration during the primary, leaving the party with an excited electorate likely to show up on Election Day, she said.

“Pennsylvania is the last place the Republicans should be putting their money,” Warshaw said.

Christopher Borick, a pollster at Muhlenberg College, said McCain must gain ground soon or it’ll be time to shift resources away from Pennsylvania and into states such as Ohio and Florida.

“He’s down 10 points at least. He’s low on money,” Borick said. “How long do you keep putting money into Pennsylvania when it’s such an expensive place to play?”

G. Terry Madonna, director of Franklin & Marshall College’s Center for Politics and Public Affairs, said it’s unlikely that McCain will win Pennsylvania. Madonna said he’s never seen a candidate overcome a 13-point lead this late in a campaign.

Even so, pulling out of the state would carry too much symbolism and would demoralize McCain’s nationwide supporters, he said. He can’t give up on what has historically been a very competitive state.

“Just to pick up and call it a day here would send an extremely negative message to Republicans all over the country,” Madonna said. “It would be a psychological blow that I don’t think the campaign is willing to accept.”