Romney Makes Last-Ditch Play For Pennsylvania

Pema Levy

It's a tradition for Republican presidential candidates to pour money into Pennsylvania with little to show for it -- the state hasn't picked a Republican for the office in 24 years. But a week before the election, the Romney campaign says it is making a serious play for the Keystone State.

In a memo released Tuesday, campaign manager Rich Beeson argued that Pennsylvania is a "unique opportunity" for Romney. And the campaign seems to be putting its money where its mouth is, placing statewide ad buys that should begin airing on television Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.

"The western part of the Keystone State has become more conservative (and President Obama's war on coal is very unpopular there), and Mitt Romney is more competitive in the voter-rich Philadelphia suburbs than any Republican nominee since 1988," the memo states. "This makes Pennsylvania a natural next step as we expand the playing field."

Recent polls show that the Romney campaign may be on to something. Romney began to gain on President Obama in September and that continued in October after his strong performance in the first debate. The TPM PollTracker Average has Obama leading Romney by just three points.

Since Romney's post-debate bounce, the campaign has claimed that the momentum in the race remains with the former governor, a strategy that the Pennsylvania ad buys fits into as well. But the Obama campaign called Romney's proclaimed efforts to expand the map a bluff.

"The Romney campaign wants you to think it's expanding the map, but it's not," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said on a conference call with reporters Monday, after news that a super PAC supporting Romney was running ads in Minnesota and Pennsylvania. "They tried this before: a month ago they were going to surge in Michigan, then they weren't. A couple of weeks ago too they were going to surge in Maine...then they weren't."

Nevertheless, the Obama campaign will also begin running ads in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh markets in a response to the super PAC. On Monday, the campaign said it would do this out of an abundance of caution.

If a last-ditch Republican effort to win Pennsylvania sounds familiar, that's because Sen. John McCain did it in 2008. Two weeks before that election, McCain's political director held a conference call with reporters in which he argued McCain had a good shot at winning the state even though polls at the time generally showed McCain trailing Obama by 10 to 15 points. Ultimately, Obama won the state by 10 points.

Though 2012 is not 2008, this is the scenario the Obama campaign recalled in their response to Romney's Pennsylvania effort.

"Three things are now absolutely clear in this race - we have a significant early vote advantage in states from North Carolina to Nevada, there is no Romney momentum in the battleground states, and the Romney campaign has found itself with a tremendously narrow and improbable path to 270 electoral votes," Messina said in a statement Tuesday, responding to new Romney ad buys. "Now, like Republicans did in 2008, they are throwing money at states where they never built an organization and have been losing for two years."

Romney's first ad in Pennsylvania touts his commitment to the coal industry -- and arguing that the state's coal industry has suffered under Obama: