GOP talks up chances in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota
After a season dominated by talk of Ohio, Virginia and Florida, Campaign 2012 suddenly shifted focus to a new trio of states yesterday amid a new verbal battle about which candidate is better positioned to win Tuesday.
The new geographic front in the political war focuses on Pennsylvania, Michigan and Minnesota, three states that have backed Democrats dating back at least to 1988 but which Republicans say are ripe for GOP nominee Mitt Romney in his challenge to President Obama.
Republican super PACs have been advertising in those states for some time, and Romney’s campaign has joined in two of them, Pennsylvania and Minnesota, but not Michigan as of yesterday.
Money spent in unexpected places by the campaigns or their super PACs says little at this point. That’s because, unlike in past presidential campaigns, both sides are flush with cash and have extra funds to play with down the stretch.
The fact that Romney’s campaign has put some money into ads in Minnesota and now Pennsylvania doesn’t say a lot so far, and the fact that his campaign has not put money into ads in Michigan may say more about the campaign’s assessment of the electoral map.
Still, Romney advisers said the action in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Michigan showed that Republicans are expanding the electoral map and have more options to get to 270 electoral votes.
“I think we’re in a great position to win,” Romney senior adviser Russ Schriefer told reporters during a conference call, citing Republican enthusiasm and the fact that the president is not above 50 percent in recent polls of those states. “Can we win all of them? Probably not,” he added. “Can we win some of them? I think probably so.”
In response, Obama’s campaign has thrown ads on television in all three states but advisers said the decision was made out of prudence, not concern. They insisted that the fact that Romney appears to be probing those states is a sign of weakness, not strength, because he is roadblocked in the true battlegrounds in his bid for 270 electoral votes.
Obama’s chief strategist, David Axelrod, went so far as to promise on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that he would shave off his mustache if Obama lost any of the three states. He later told reporters, “I’m very confident that I’ll still have this mustache on Nov. 8. We’re going to win those states. So, the bottom line on all this is that this professed momentum of the Romney campaign is really ‘faux-mentum.’ ”
Another Obama adviser, speaking on the condition of anonymity to be candid about strategy, said that at an earlier point in the campaign, Obama might have waited to see whether GOP ad buys in these states were having an effect. But, he said, with just days remaining in the election, the campaign will take nothing for granted.
Polls have tightened in Pennsylvania and Michigan. Republicans cite that as evidence that the momentum in the race has shifted toward Romney and that the challenger is in a position to overtake the incumbent in states that once appeared off the boards. But with national polls showing a dead heat, as most do right now, it’s expected that states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and even Minnesota will be relatively close contests.
In Pennsylvania, pollsters and political strategists not affiliated with either presidential campaign suggested that the race was close but that Obama had a clear lead. There’s bipartisan agreement that the race has narrowed because the president has grown more unpopular in the southwestern portion of the state, in part because he has been attacked as being anti-coal.
Christopher Nicholas, a former GOP consultant who is now political director for the Pennsylvania Business Council, said of Romney: “He’s doing less poorly in Philadelphia suburbs than a basic Republican has, and the president is collapsing in the southwest.”
“The lead here is four or five (percentage points), and I don’t think one week of TV is going to alter that,” said former governor Edward Rendell, a Democrat. He also indicated that Obama has a significantly larger get-out-the-vote operation than Romney does.
Rich Beeson, Romney’s political director, countered by telling reporters that Romney’s ground operation is “incredibly strong” in Pennsylvania and has been in place “since day one” of the campaign.