Pennsylvania, which hasn’t voted for a Republican for president since George H.W. Bush in 1988, suddenly has become a tempting prize for Mitt Romney.
Barack Obama won Pennsylvania by 10 points over Republican candidate John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, and he seemed in a strong position to carry the state’s 20 electoral votes again this year. Mr. Obama has led Mr. Romney in polls by double digits for most of the year, and neither candidate has spent money or much time in the Keystone State.
But since Mr. Romney trounced the president in their first debate on Oct. 3, the race in Pennsylvania has been tightening to the point where the state is now rated a tossup.
A Quinnipiac University poll Tuesday showed the Republican nominee trailing Mr. Obama by 4 points, 50 percent to 46 percent, among likely voters. The same poll in late September showed the president with a 12-point lead.
A Muhlenberg College/Morning Call poll taken Oct. 10-14 also found Mr. Romney trailing by 4 points, down from a 7-point deficit in late September.
“Could Mitt Romney win here? Yes, I think he can,” said Christopher Borick, director of Muhlenberg College’s Institute of Public Opinion in Allentown, Pa. “He’s in that range, if things broke for him. But it’s still an uphill climb for Republicans.”
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Democrat, said he doubts that the Romney campaign’s internal polling looks as promising as the public surveys.
“If their number was 4 [percent], Romney would be on the air today,” Mr. Rendell said in an interview. “The fact that they’re not tells me that their number is not four. Each day they wait makes it less and less likely they really have a chance to really be competitive.”
Mr. Romney’s improved position in Pennsylvania, where Vice President Joseph R. Biden was raised, is even more startling because his campaign hasn’t spent any money on ads in the state. The Republican has set foot in Pennsylvania only once since July. His momentum is primarily a result of his performance in the first presidential debate.
“Even though their campaign is not very alive in the commonwealth, Pennsylvanians, like everybody else, watched that [first] debate,” Mr. Borick said. “Among undecideds, in particular, we’ve seen movement.”
“Pennsylvania voters say Vice President Joseph Biden, a native son and a Catholic, won the debate and is more qualified than U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan to be president,” Mr. Malloy said. “But that doesn’t seem to be lifting the top of the ticket.”
The closing of the gap in Pennsylvania presents the Romney campaign with something of an unexpected dilemma. Not having counted on winning the state, Romney advisers now must consider whether it’s worth diverting precious campaign resources from other battleground states such as Ohio and Virginia in the hopes of carrying Pennsylvania.
In fact, the Romney campaign recently moved one of its top officials in Pennsylvania, Kate Meriwether, out of its office in Harrisburg to help the campaign in Virginia.
A Romney campaign official said on background that Pennsylvania “is showing the same trends we’re seeing all across the country.”