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Mitt Romney plans Pennsylvania ad blitz. Can he turn state red?

Pennsylvania is one of the blue states where the Romney team says momentum has changed the campaign calculus. But other factors might be behind the decision to ramp up ads there, too.

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To Democrats, the Romney plan smells of desperation. “Now, like Republicans did in 2008, they are throwing money at states where they never built an organization and have been losing for two years,” said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina in an e-mailed statement. “Let’s be very clear, the Romney campaign and its allies decision to go up with advertising in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Minnesota is a decision made out of weakness, not strength.”  

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Before Tuesday’s announcement, the Romney campaign signaled its slight hopes for Pennsylvania through its infrequent visits to the state. Romney’s last visit, a trip to Valley Forge on Sept. 28, was his first since July. Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan and Ann Romney went in October, but only once each – and Ryan was at his rally for less than an hour.  

A late Romney dive into the state, however, risks firing up labor unions and other Democratic constituencies who previously might have stayed at home, assuming the race was won. 

“Poking this bear with this stick is going to wake up the sleeping beast, but it’s not going to only eat Mitt Romney, it’s going to eat a lot of other Republicans, too,” says T.J. Rooney, a former chairman of the state Democratic Party. “If there was any lethargy on the part of Democrats it’s a great call to get off the sofa and get out and do the get-out-the-vote stuff.” 

Overall, Republicans point out that voter registration in Pennsylvania, at just under 8.5 million voters, is down from the 8.75 million in 2008. That’s resulted in a slight decline in Democrats’ edge, which stands at 1.1 million. 

Moreover, Romney might see an opportunity to make inroads among typically Democratic voters in Pennsylvania coal country. Coal is, perhaps not so coincidentally, the subject of a new ad released by the Romney campaign Tuesday.  

“The great unwritten story, that will be figured out after the election is over, is how much western Pennsylvania has abandoned the Democrats,” says Christopher Nicholas, a veteran Republican political consultant and political director at the Pennsylvania Business Council. 

And while polling hasn’t shown a Romney surge, state Republicans were heartened by the performance of their Senate candidate, Tom Smith, who has gained on incumbent Sen. Bob Casey (D) with a withering barrage of attacks in recent weeks.  

The Romney campaign’s new interest in the state has an emotional boost for state party operatives, who have “been crawling through the trenches and they’re finally getting some air cover,” says Mr. Nicholas.  

Republican operatives argue that the same trends that have won Romney voters in national polls are operating in Pennsylvania, too. Romney’s recent performances in the debates and on the campaign trail have given undecided voters “the green light to vote for him,” says Charlie Gerow, a Republican consultant with more than three decades of political experience in Pennsylvania.  

Or, perhaps, at the end of a relentless campaign, Team Romney just needed a green light to go somewhere new. 

“Maybe they’ve just run out of towns in Iowa and Ohio to go to,” Nicholas says. “There’s some fresh towns here."


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