Both presidential campaigns and their super PAC allies are now running television ads in Pennsylvania, with Republicans making a late push to try to swing the state their way, and Democrats moving to block them.
It’s a familiar scenario that’s played out in every election since 1992, where the Keystone State has been the GOP’s Sisyphus — tantalizing its presidential candidates each time, but always slipping out of reach.
“Doable, but a pretty steep climb,” G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, said in evaluating Republicans’ chances to push the rock to the top of the hill this year.
“They are not close in Pennsylvania. We are going to win Pennsylvania,” campaign manager Jim Messina told reporters on Monday. “But we aren’t taking anything for granted, and that’s what good campaigns do.”
Republicans have spotted big opportunities late in campaigns before. In 2004, they deployed Vice President Dick Cheney to Hawaii after a poll showed then-President George W. Bush might be competitive. And in 2008 Sen. John McCain tried to put Pennsylvania in play.
But Republicans said there is a real opportunity this year to win in Pennsylvania and some other states Mr. Obama claimed in 2008.
“I think what you’re seeing in Pennsylvania is a reflection of a growing national trend of momentum strongly flowing to Mitt Romney and the Romney-Ryan ticket,” said Charlie Gerow, a Republican consultant in the state and CEO of Quantum Communications. “That’s it in a nutshell.”
With 20 electoral votes, it’s the second-biggest prize on the up-for-grabs board, behind Florida’s 29 and ahead of Ohio’s 18.
Mr. Gerow also said while many states have big early-voting and absentee programs, in Pennsylvania 96 or 97 percent of voters will go to the polls on Election Day, meaning money can be spent late and still have an impact.
Republicans say it’s a telling sign that Mr. Romney has put Mr. Obama on the defensive in Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan — all states the incumbent won handily in 2008.
By contrast, Mr. Obama has not made a major play for any of the states he lost in 2008. Then again, his huge margin in the Electoral College last time left him with plenty of margin for error.
And with a week to go, the president retains advantages in the polls in each of those states, according to the Real Clear Politics average of polls: 2.3 percentage points in Wisconsin, 4 points in Michigan, 4.7 points in Pennsylvania and 5.3 points in Minnesota.
Romney campaign political director Rich Beeson released a memo Tuesday arguing that Pennsylvania is the obvious target this year. He said the western part of the state is more conservative, and he said Mr. Romney can be more competitive in the vote-rich Philadelphia suburbs in a way no Republican has been since 1988.
Still, the GOP’s efforts are late in the cycle compared to previous years, suggesting they could be a feint, or could just be overflow money with the advertising air time in the real battleground states already saturated.