Does PA Still Matter in National Politics?

We've lost our darling swing state status.

Election day is now less than six weeks away. If you live in Philly and you’re a political junkie, and follow lots of national news shows and political blogs, chances are the upcoming election is a big part of what you’re thinking about these days. But what if you’re not?

This election, from a local standpoint, has been sort of a dud up to this point. Pennsylvania, in the last few election cycles, has been one of the key swing states, and an important battleground in the presidential race. We’ve seen regular visits by the candidates and, as election day drew closer, wall-to-wall TV ads.

This year? That hasn’t been the case. For one thing, President Obama has a sizable lead in the state, with even the GOP-leaning Rasmussen reports placing Obama ahead by 12 points as of September 19th. Nate Silver’s Five Thirty Eight forecast has Obama up in Pennsylvania by an average of seven points, giving him a 94 percent likelihood of winning the state, with the Real Clear Politics average putting him ahead by eight. Not only is Obama nearly a lock to win Pennsylvania, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the networks call the state for Obama just minutes after the polls close in the East.

So that lack of TV ads, and the paucity of local appearances by the candidates? You didn’t imagine it. According to an AP story last week, both candidates as well as their supporting SuperPACs have mostly stopped running ads in Pennsylvania, while surrogates have been campaigning instead of the candidates themselves. Obama hasn’t personally campaigned in Pennsylvania since June, and Romney hasn’t since July. In other words, Romney has all but conceded the state, and Obama isn’t fighting here anymore, either.

Sure, a Susquehanna Polling and Research/Pittsburgh Tribune-Review poll last weekend put Obama ahead of Romney by just two points in the state, but that goes significantly against the trend of all other polling in Pennsylvania in recent weeks. I’m sure, closer to the election, there will come a day when one poll puts Obama ahead by 1 or 2, and I’m sure Matt Drudge will lead with “SHOCK POLL: Pennsylvania is statistically tied.” But it won’t be.

And don’t even get me started on the fountain of unintentional comedy that is, a conservative effort seemingly founded on the notion that if you don’t like your candidate’s sluggish poll numbers, don’t worry—we’ll just make up new ones! Nate Silver hasn’t yet written about it, and I’m guessing it’s because he hasn’t been able to stop laughing yet. It’s not the least bit surprising that Dick Morris and other media bottom feeders have embraced the site wholeheartedly.

Then there’s the Senate race, in which the Real Clear Politics average has Senator Bob Casey winning by 13.2 points, and the race is not treated as one of the 15 most likely to change parties. The election between Casey and Republican nominee Tom Smith has been so nondescript that I nearly forgot there was even a Senate race in Pennsylvania this year.

In fact, with the Democrats taking Pennsylvania every presidential year since 1988, with only one year (2004) when it was particularly close, the question has been raised of whether or not it’s even a swing state anymore. Thomas Edsall wrote a lengthy New York Times this week explaining why that is.

It’s starting to look like Pennsylvania no longer occupies the hallowed place in national politics that it once did. Part of it is demographic shifts that have made the state more Democratic. Part of it is the vagaries of the electoral college system, which give so much more power to whatever states are swing states.

And some if it, honestly, is that Pennsylvania politicians with national profiles and big personalities, like Ed Rendell, Rick Santorum and even Arlen Specter, are no longer on the scene, at least not in local elected office. If Gov. Tom Corbett is getting any national media attention, it’s more likely related to his strange role in the Penn State scandal than for anything related to state politics.

If you’re the sort of person who hates seeing wall-to-wall political ads, this is great. But if you enjoy PA being the center of the political universe, it’s not so great.