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November 05, 2012 9:58 AM Romney’s Keystone Gambit

By Ed Kilgore

One of the major stories in the end-game of the 2012 presidential elections has been the late decision by the Romney campaign to “play” (via both paid advertising and significant candidate resources) in Pennsylvania, a state that always seems to tempt Republicans in presidential elections while going routinely Democratic (at least since 1988).

Some over-enthusiastic (or spin-mad) Republicans initially interpreted the move into Pennsylvania as portending The Romney Landslide: Mitt was so confident of victory in what we all assumed to be the “battleground states” that he was now able to “expand the map” and threaten “enemy turf,” much as Obama did in 2008 when he did some last-minute campaigning in Indiana.

A more common interpretation was that Team Mitt was performing a “feint:” with money to burn, why not put Pennsylvania into play in hopes of diverting Democratic resources into a state outside the true “battlegrounds,” improving GOP odds in those? This is reportedly what the McCain campaign was trying to do in 2008 with a similar maneuver.

But I think the most reasonable explanation is that Romney is serious about trying to win Pennsylvania, but not because he’s so confident of victory; au contraire, he’s seeking an unorthodox and very narrow path to 270 electoral votes, and the Keystone State makes sense in that context.

Nate Silver lays out a scenario where Romney gets 273 electoral votes despite losing Ohio, Iowa, Nevada and New Hampshire (and also Wisconsin, the other state where the Romney campaign is making a late bid):

Mr. Romney could not afford to lose Virginia, where he is narrowly behind in the polling average, or Florida, where he is narrowly ahead. He could also not afford to lose Colorado, unless he won New Hampshire.
But Florida, Virginia and Colorado are traditionally slightly Republican-leaning. If Mr. Romney overperforms his state polls across the board — something he will need to do anyway to win the election — they may come along for the ride.

Add in PA to the “red states” plus FL, VA and CO, and you get 273 electoral votes. And then there’s the turnout wild card: Pennsylvania has limited early voting, and it’s reasonable to think Sandy could have a greater effect on GOTV efforts in eastern than in Western Pennsylvania. So with a higher percentage of the electorate voting on November 5 than in OH, IA, FL, NV and CO, and with southwest Pennsylvania trending red in recent cycles, there might be a way to eke out an upset—again, assuming the national dynamics don’t doom any road to 270 for Romney.

Calling the Pennsylvania gambit rational doesn’t mean it’s plausible, much less likely to succeed. The RCP polling average for PA gives Obama a four-point lead in the state, and that’s with three of the seven relevant polls being from firms with a significant history of a pro-Republican “house effect” (Susquehanna, Gravis and Rasmussen). The Romney invasion of Pennsylvania could well turn out to be like Lee’s in 1863: a desperate gamble by an army on the brink of defeat. We should know relatively early tomorrow night if it has any chance of working.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • DIane Rodriguez on November 05, 2012 10:28 AM:

    Time for Obama to trot out the part of the 47% clip in which Lord SB states that those 47% feel entitled to food and shelter.

    Here in California, there are many Rove 501(c)(4) ads showing. I suspect that LSB has more money than he knows what to do with and some of it is being dumped in states that are not remotely in play.

    I sincerely hope that a post election challenge to Rove's tax free political machine lands him in prison when it is finally revealed that there are donations from foreign parties.

  • stormskies on November 05, 2012 10:33 AM:

    The reality is that Pennsylvania was the only state left in which he could by ad time .... that's it.

  • Steve LaBonne on November 05, 2012 10:33 AM:

    Don't forget plain old grift as part of the explanation. The money has to go somewhere in order for all those campaign "professionals" to get paid.

  • Craigo on November 05, 2012 10:35 AM:

    History nerd alert: the Pennsylvania campaign was less desperate than arrogant. Lee had just defeated the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville after dividing his force in the face of the enemy, which is an insane strategem that will result in destruction if your opponent literally does anything. fortunately for Lee, General Hooker first frozen and was then knocked out by a cannon blast, and his army did indeed do nothing. Lee had no way of knowing this of course, and erroneously believed that one of his soldiers could whip three Yankees.

    So - if the historical analogy holds, perhaps this really is overconfidence from the Romney camp?

  • jrosen on November 05, 2012 10:35 AM:

    I was in Eastern Pennsylvania yesterday (north of Philadelphia). I was able to get gas (unavailable still in NYC) and saw little or no storm effect. I doubt seriously whether there will be any Sandy problems tomorrow.

  • kdbart on November 05, 2012 10:35 AM:

    The latest Susquehanna poll which actually gives Romney a 1 point lead in Pennsylvania is skewed over the top toward the Republicans. The internals indicate that 90% of those polled were Caucasians in a state where the latest Census data indicates in the low 80s and the 2010 Exit polls for the Senate race only indicates 85% Caucasian and the 2008 exit polls indicate 81% Caucasian. Also, 32% of the respondents were 60 and older where the latest Census data and the 2008 and 2010 exit polls indicate a much smaller percentage 60 and older. This is what one can expect from a poll sponsored by Richard Scaife's newspaper in Pittsburgh.

  • kdbart on November 05, 2012 10:41 AM:

    The latest Susquehanna poll which actually gives Romney a 1 point lead in Pennsylvania is skewed over the top toward the Republicans. The internals indicate that 90% of those polled were Caucasians in a state where the latest Census data indicates in the low 80s and the 2010 Exit polls for the Senate race only indicates 85% Caucasian and the 2008 exit polls indicate 81% Caucasian. Also, 32% of the respondents were 60 and older where the latest Census data and the 2008 and 2010 exit polls indicate a much smaller percentage 60 and older. This is what one can expect from a poll sponsored by Richard Scaife's newspaper in Pittsburgh.

  • Ronald on November 05, 2012 10:51 AM:

    Nate Silver at 538 has Pennsylvania at 52.4/46.7 Obama/Romney.
    There's little chance that an even over-the-top ad campaign could get Romney enough of an edge to overcome Obama at this point.

    I'm with @Steve above there- poli consultants don't get paid unless they're doing something 'active', so might as well just throw PAC money around to look busy and keep the paychecks rolling in, especially since their milk-cow will be dry in just a few short days.

  • EdgewaterJoe on November 05, 2012 11:09 AM:

    Let's not forget that and Team Obama is playing their trump car in PA just to be sure: barnstorming The Big Dawg, Bill Clinton, throughout the state. (Of course, the righties are likely to go ZOMG! PANIC! about that move, but I like to think it's more likely preparation for an end zone dance ...)

  • c u n d gulag on November 05, 2012 11:13 AM:

    Karl Rove still had money to burn, and it's hard to explain to his "Job Creators" how Romney ads in Canada, Mexica, or Russia, would help Mitt win.

  • Nameless Anonymity on November 05, 2012 11:19 AM:

    It would be a shock for Romney to win in PA--it would be manipulation of voting devices and outright suppression. And you cannot trust the major newspapers other than the wonderful Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

    The Tribune Review is the uber-conservative right wing rag throughout the state--caught red-handed in an attempt to mislead rural voters in one western pennsylvania town:

    http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/10/22/1056351/pennsylvania-newspaper-owned-by-top-right-wing-funder-falsely-claims-id-is-required-to-vote/

  • troglodyte on November 05, 2012 11:20 AM:

    A PA gambit isnt as crazy as it sounds, even though it is a longshot. Because the Romney campaign traffics in deception, its negative advertisements work as long as there is no counterattack. In Ohio, the main themes of the Romney campaign (e.g. Jeeps made in China) have been aired and debunked, so new deceptive ads in Ohio would look potency. In PA, his campaign can atleast hope to get a temporary bounce from deceptive ads in a media market that has been quiet for the past month. The Ohio ads have been discussed in national media, however, so its still hard to imaging a 5% bounce from an over-the-weekend push.

  • Nameless Anonymity on November 05, 2012 11:47 AM:

    We have been told that people might be denied the right to vote if driver's licenses lack middle initials. It is bull, but it has been widely circulated, reaching low-information voters.
    One thing is you can go on the county website and check your registration then copy and paste it to your laptop.

    Pennsylvania's government continued to waste a ton of money advertising a voter id law that was stopped by the courts. Mailings, billboards, televised commercials, etc.

    Meanwhile the cuts to human services and to education have been drastic and heartless. Pennsylvania is a government for corporations now, with huge largesse to oil, gas and energy companies. Our local water supply is endangered by fracking activities at a resevoir where 200,000 residents get their drinking water.

    I wrecked a wonderful, rare
    . car traveling in a line of marcellus shale trucks hauling their enormous equipment to rural areas lacking political clout in a state fully taken over by republicans since Ed Rendell left.

  • Ron Byers on November 05, 2012 12:03 PM:

    Negative ads don't change votes as much as they suppress turnout. PA is and has been close enough for the Democratic party to have installed a good ground game. It is hard to suppress voters with negative ads at the end of a campaign if the ground game is good. Obama is lucky in that he has both Biden and Clinton out on the stump. PA is a perfect state for Clinton.

    The Republicans took their shot yesterday. If it was working they would be back today. Instead they are in VA and the other traditional battleground states.

  • sandra3 on November 05, 2012 12:04 PM:

    like Marvin answered I am taken by surprise that people able to get paid $7823 in a few weeks on the internet. did you read this site link...Key14.com

  • Adam Peritz on November 05, 2012 12:18 PM:

    I live in Montgomery county PA, Suburb outside of Philadelphia. Driving around you see far fewer Obama signs than 4 years ago and a lot more republican signs. Democrats seem more apathetic this year. If Romney is able to win Montgomery county, there is a good chance he could win PA

  • BJ smith on November 05, 2012 12:54 PM:

    With all the suppression tricks, the almost nonstop Lying & madeup credible sounding propaganda is there a point that even decent thinking people, who tend to normally vote Republican will not tolerate? Seems that could be a relm of possibility in this election? Just wondering.