Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Why McCain Is Back in the Keystone State

John McCain has adopted a Pennsylvania-or-bust strategy.

That’s what I’m hearing. The McCain campaign’s plan is to win my state, Pennsylvania, and just hope everything works out for him in states like Virginia and Nevada.


It’s not a strategy so much as an admission of defeat.

Here are five reasons the McCain campaign might think they can win Pennsylvania:

  1. Pennsylvania went for a Republican presidential candidate as recently as 1988.
  2. Deep-seated racial prejudice might still be a factor in five or ten counties in the state, if you looked hard enough. (To be fair, no one seems to have found any of those counties yet.)
  3. Cindy McCain plays well here. Pennsylvania does not seem to share the resentment of “heiresses” that you would find in many other areas.
  4. Barack Obama lost the Pennsylvania primary. Hillary Clinton’s negative campaigning here left lingering doubts about Obama.
  5. With the election seemingly locked up, Obama may focus more on states that have competitive Senate races. There is no Senate race in Pennsylvania this year.

But here are five reasons why McCain doesn’t have a prayer in Pennsylvania:

  1. Obama leads McCain in the polls 51–40, and that lead is growing. That is a bigger margin than in states such as Colorado and Michigan that the McCain campaign has already conceded. Obama got twice as many votes in the primary as McCain.
  2. More than half of the state’s voters are registered Democrats. McCain might need 90 percent of the Republicans, independents, and Clinton voters to carry the state, but he does not have that level of support among any of those groups.
  3. Obama has visited Pennsylvania much more than McCain has this year. McCain would almost have to camp out in Pennsylvania until the election to catch up.
  4. Joe Biden, Obama’s running mate, is a favorite son candidate, a native of Pennsylvania and well known and widely admired as a senator from the neighboring state of Delaware. By contrast, Pennsylvanians tend to see McCain’s running mate Sarah Palin as an embarrassment. She has an uncanny resemblance to the counter-culture moonshiner types that we hope will not frighten away the tourists when they visit here.
  5. Moderate voters are not warming up to McCain’s message. They are more likely to have an unfavorable view of McCain after they see him. Moderates are the key to winning Pennsylvania, so heavy campaigning or advertising here will not help McCain unless he changes his message.

Why Pennsylvania? It’s a matter of travel convenience. John and Cindy can campaign in Pennsylvania and go home to Washington at the end of the day. The alternative, to target three or four smaller states, would have the McCain campaign spending too much time traveling and too little time campaigning to have an effect.

Yet McCain must realize he has no realistic chance of carrying Pennsylvania. Making the conveniently-located Keystone State the cornerstone of his electoral strategy would seem to be his way of saying, “I just want to go home.”