By MATTHEW KAMINSKI –
Pennsylvanians have no problem voting Republican. Out of 67 counties, 52 are in GOP hands. So are 12 of 19 congressional districts, both houses of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion. Republican Pat Toomey won a Senate seat in 2010.
As party hacks know, the trouble for the GOP here is at the top of the ticket. The state last turned red in a presidential race 24 years ago for George H.W. Bush. His son made it a priority in 2004 and lost by 2.5%. Barack Obama’s 10-point win in 2008 was supposed to take it out of the swing column this year.
Yet one of the surprises of the past month is a quietly competitive race for Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes. Since the Denver debate on Oct. 3, Mr. Obama’s lead has narrowed to 4.7%, according to the RealClearPolitics average of state polls. On Tuesday, the Romney campaign leaked plans to air television ads in Pennsylvania, starting as early as today. The effort joins two pro-Republican Super PACs that on Monday revealed a $3 million-plus last-minute ad blitz, including in the expensive Philadelphia media market.
If Pennsylvania stages a surprise next week, it’ll come out of suburban Philadelphia. The four so-called collar counties (Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery) were once moderate Republican bastions. In the past two decades, the suburbs have gone for Democratic presidential candidates. You can’t win without them. Bucks (pop. 626,854) is the bellwether: A mix of educated middle-class, rural and blue-collar communities, it votes both ways in local elections—and always for the presidential winner.