Why Mitt Romney Will Never Win Pennsylvania

Sorry Mitt, but the Keystone State ain't gonna swing your way.

A week ago today the Supreme Court of the United States upheld key components of Obamacare—dealing a decisive blow to critics of the law and handing the President of the United States a well-deserved, if long overdue victory. While there’s little consensus on how, or even if the ruling will ultimately impact the course of the election (my guess is it won’t), President Obama, for one, isn’t waiting around to find out. He took the weekend to revel in his victory and came out Monday newly emboldened and itching for a fight.

On Tuesday, the President released his newest attack ad, bashing Mitt Romney’s penchant for shipping U.S. jobs overseas during his tenure at Bain Capital and for supporting policies that promote outsourcing ever since. The 30-second television spot, titled simply, “Believes,” will air in nine states, including Pennsylvania.

The President’s offensive continues on Thursday when—with the new ad in full rotation—he kicks off his “Betting on America” tour—a two-day bus trip that will take him to parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania. Obama’s stump tour comes barely two weeks after Romney’s own bus rolled through the Keystone State, where the former Massachusetts moderate made news for eluding a protest led by Ed Rendell and marveling  over how easy it is to order a meatball sandwich at Wawa.

All this attention being showered on the commonwealth certainly isn’t coincidental. Pennsylvania is one of a dozen so-called swing states that pundits in both the Obama and Romney camps are expecting to play a deciding factor in who wins in November. Unfortunately for Romney, there’s some pretty strong evidence he’s got his work cut out for him in any state that isn’t already solidly red.

A string of recent polls shows that due to a variety of factors, the President is making significant headway in the 12 “battleground” states of Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.

A USA Today/Gallup Poll released in April that found Obama leading his opponent 51 percent to 42 percent among all registered voters attributed the President’s success, in part, to his rising popularity among women over 50, while a more recent poll found the President leads Romney 66 percent to 25 percent among Latino voters.

Last week, Quinnipiac University released its own poll showing Obama leading Romney by an average of eight points in swing states—compared to three points nationwide—with a strong advantage in three key swing states: Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. (Since 1960, no candidate has managed to take the White House without winning at least two of those states).

According to Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute:

“If [the President] can keep those leads in all three of these key swing states through election day he would be virtually assured of re-election.”

Of course, it’s too early to tell which swing states will ultimately vote Obama; and poll data is notoriously fickle. But in at least one state, Pennsylvania, Romney’s chances of winning are slim to none.

It’s hard to call Pennsylvania a swing state at all, really. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than one million votes, and the commonwealth hasn’t elected a Republican presidential candidate since 1988. (And even then, the GOP barely squeaked by, with voters choosing George H. W. Bush over Michael Dukakis by a margin of just 2.3 percent.) Weak showings by the Democrats in 2000 and 2004 convinced some experts that the state is up for grabs; but the dominant view remains that Pennsylvania is, at its core, a blue state and (at the national level, at least) is unfriendly to the GOP. If anything, the Republican Party’s right-hand turn of late has only served to further alienate Pennsylvania’s elephants—who as a group tend to be more moderate (particularly on social issues, like say, contraception) than the party’s Midwestern evangelical base.

In 2008, Steve Kornacki of the New York Observer observed that the Keystone State is where “Republican campaigns go to die.” That year, John McCain went boots up despite heavy investment in the state, losing Pennsylvania by a whopping 10 percentage points to Barack Obama.

So why is Romney even bothering?

For one thing, Obama has been losing ground in Pennsylvania—among Jewish voters, who feel he has been too hard on Israel; Catholics angered by his challenge to the church over contraception; and the white working class, who are suffering under a brutally stubborn economic recovery and need someone to blame. This has convinced Republicans (some more than others) that the President’s position is precarious enough that he could lose the state.

Here are three reasons why they are wrong:

The strengthening Hispanic vote
Thanks to the President’s recent (and brilliantly timed) decision to stop deporting undocumented children as illegal aliens, his support among Latinos is on the rise across the country. Pennsylvania’s Latino population grew by more than 80 percent between 2000 and 2010, and is expected to be a strong force in 2012. Latinos now make up six percent of the population of Pennsylvania, while the number of registered Hispanic voters in Pennsylvania swelled from 95,000 in 2004 to 189,000 in 2008. This is also a constituency that Romney is having trouble engaging (and choosing Marco Rubio as his running mate, which at this point seems highly unlikely, won’t help).

The economy
The President’s decision to play up Romney’s private equity background is a shrewd one, particularly in a state like Pennsylvania where there’s a strong manufacturing ethos. A third of voters report negative reactions to Romney’s Bain experience (quite a pickle for a candidate who planned on riding his business experience like a magic carpet into office).  This could give the President a solid leg up among another constituency he’ll need this year: the white working class. As Evan McMurray, sums up at Ology.com:

“The Obama campaign doesn’t have to convince white working-class voters to love Obama when they can convince them to hate Romney for his venture capitalism, and a 51 percent disapproval rating is a sign that they do.”

College-educated whites and the young
These two demographics are the President’s bread-and-butter, largely responsible for his ascent to the White House in 2008. Over the past two-and-a-half decades, while the number of white working-class voters in Pennsylvania has declined 25 points, the number of white college graduates has increased 16 points—the highest rate of growth among all the battleground states, according to data from the Center for American Progress. Meanwhile, in  2008 voters from the so-called millennial generation—aged 18 to 29—gave Obama a whopping 34-point margin over John McCain, the largest age disparity of any election since 1972, according to the Pew Research Center. In the last three general elections—2004, 2006, and 2008—voters under 30 have given the Democratic Party a majority of their votes. It’s true, Ron Paul has made some headway among this demographic (and Romney is working hard to do the same); but when push comes to shove, it’s a sure bet young people will vote Democrat in November—if the Obama campaign can ensure their presence at the polls, that is.