Might Mitt Romney snatch Pennsylvania from President Obama?

Pennsylvania is a holy grail of sorts for Republican presidential candidates. The Romney camp says polls are trending in its direction, and Romney will visit the state for the first time since September.

Charles Dharapak/AP
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney greets supporters at State Fair Park in West Allis, Wis., Friday. He is now scheduled to visit Pennsylvania this weekend.

Could Mitt Romney win Pennsylvania, a state that’s swung Democratic in every presidential election for the past 20 years? That question comes up because Romney himself is now scheduled to stop in Philadelphia for a rally on Sunday following a burst of GOP-funded Keystone State ads.  

At this point in a campaign a candidate’s time is a precious resource. Mr. Romney’s surprise visit to Pennsylvania thus suggests that his campaign sees an opening. Either that or they’re desperate, as Democrats charge.

Right now President Obama maintains an edge in Pennsylvania polling. Entering the race’s last weekend he leads Romney by 4.6 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics average of major polls conducted in the state.

But that margin is half what it was at the beginning of October. The most recent surveys show the race in Pennsylvania continuing to tighten, according to G. Terry Madonna, professor of public affairs at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., and Michael Young of Michael Young Strategic Research.

The reason for the narrowing margin is that Romney continues to gain on the crucial measure of which candidate would best manage the economy, according to Drs. Madonna and Young. An October Franklin and Marshall poll showed Romney leading Mr. Obama on this question by 47 to 42 percent.

“Someone didn’t get the memo about Obama’s inevitability in the Keystone state,” wrote Madonna and Young on Thursday in a RealClearPolitics post.

Starting earlier this month GOP "super political action committees" began snapping up ad time in Pennsylvania. The Republican National Committee has followed with its own $3 million investment in state spots.

But Democrats insist that for Republicans Pennsylvania is the green light on the end of Daisy’s dock in “The Great Gatsby” – a lure that recedes before them they harder they chase its promise.

The GOP always thinks that this is the year the conservative tilt of the state’s vast interior will outweigh the Democratic leanings of the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh urban areas, according to Democrats. Yet that hasn’t happened in presidential races since George H. W. Bush won Pennsylvania in 1988.

Obama campaign officials say their candidate’s lead in Pennsylvania isn’t shrinking – it’s held relatively steady since the first debate closed the race all across the country. They insist they never expected to win the state by almost double digits, but that they’ll win it nonetheless.

“Like Republicans did in ’08, Romney’s throwing money at states where he never built an organization and where he’s been losing for two years,” said Obama campaign manager Jim Messina in a conference call with reporters earlier this week.

It’s possible that Romney, resigned to losing Ohio, is trying to find a way to cobble together a winning 270 votes in the Electoral College, and needs Pennsylvania to reach that total. It’s also possible that the Romney campaign has spotted a trend running toward their guy and is spending money and time in Pennsylvania as a hedge and possible route to 300 electoral votes or more.

Either way, we’ll know in a few days.

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