Four years ago, Hillary Clinton won the Democratic primary in Pennsylvania by ten points. It was a decisive win, and it highlighted her strength with working-class voters, the chief demographic in Pennsylvania’s central, western, and northeastern regions. Obama was later able to woo many of those Hillary supporters, but it wasn’t a warm embrace.
Four years later, many of Pennsylvania’s working-class voters, from small-town professionals to coal miners, are ready to leave the Obama camp. The sagging economy and the administration’s coal policies have angered many western Pennsylvanians, and Romney will likely see increased support in counties won by Obama, such as Cambria.
Tom Smith, a 65-year-old former Democrat and coal executive, has benefited from this changing tide. He’s running for the Senate as a Republican against Bob Casey, the Democratic incumbent, and he has used his own fortune and plainspoken personality to climb in the polls. On the trail, he is using the coal debate to attract independents.
But winning over those disaffected coal miners and small-business owners in the west won’t be enough for Romney to win Pennsylvania. The state’s large cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, are deep-blue Democratic strongholds. That leaves the Philadelphia suburbs — Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties — as the battleground.
If any Republican can win there, it’s Romney. Philadelphia suburbanites respect well-educated, business-friendly Republicans, and they were the base of the late senator Arlen Specter, a onetime moderate Republican. Statewide, the Real Clear Politics average shows Obama up by less than five points. If Romney can capture the suburbs and the coal country, he may triumph.
— Robert Costa is a political reporter forNational Review.