Mitt Romney Beats a Retreat in Crucial State of Pennsylvania

Charles Dharapak / AP Photo

Is Mitt Romney giving up on Pennsylvania?

The Keystone State has long been considered one of the crucial swing states up for grabs this year. In fact, the state’s blue-collar Democrats were the ones who Barack Obama famously described as sticking to their guns and bibles. After all, the state has elected Rick Santorum twice and has solid Republican majorities in both the legislature and its congressional delegation.

But it seems Romney is already pulling staff out. According to Twitter screen shots provided by a Democratic operative, Kate Meriwether, the Romney communications director for Pennsylvania, is now out of Harrisburg and working for the campaign in Virginia. Meriwether, who had previously served as the press secretary for North Carolina Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, is now describing herself as spokeswoman for the Romney campaign and tweeting from Virginia. This follows reports that the Romney camp is reassigning staff to Ohio from Pennsylvania. The Daily Beast has received no response in asking both Meriwether and the Romney campaign in Boston for comment.

This shift of resources shouldn’t be a shock, even as the campaign seems to be tightening in the aftermath of Romney’s resounding victory in the first debate. Pennsylvania has long leaned Democratic in presidential races. In fact, the last Republican nominee to win the state was George H.W. Bush in 1988. Obama has long maintained a lead in the polls in the state and, according to Nate Silver of The New York Times, Romney has less than a 9 percent chance winning the state this year.

If Romney is giving up on Pennsylvania, this is likely a sign of more focused efforts elsewhere. After all, Pennsylvania has been described as the “Moby-Dick” of Republican strategists, an elusive white whale that Republican presidential campaigns can never quite capture. Not only that, as a state with two major cities and numerous smaller media markets, it’s a very expensive white whale to pursue.

But it doesn’t seem likely that he’s giving up. John Brabender, a veteran GOP consultant in the state who was chief strategist for Santorum’s presidential campaign, it’s a state that the Romney campaign is still carefully tracking.

In Brabender’s view, the GOP nominee’s campaign is keeping a careful eye on whether its post-debate bounce holds up in Pennsylvania. The state is “close to a tie” right now, he says, but if that’s the case, it also means other Rust Belt states like Michigan and Ohio are moving toward Romney. Brabender believes that if Romney “is going to play” in Pennsylvania, it will be in “the last 10 days and not the last three or four weeks.” Even then, he sees a scenario where Romney avoids airing any ads on broadcast television in the Philadelphia media market, the fourth most expensive in the country, and instead concentrates on the rest of the state.

Romney would obviously like to win Pennsylvania, but he doesn’t need to. As Brabender puts it, “if you win Ohio, you’re probably going to win Florida and, if you win those two, you’re probably going to win Virginia.” Those three states combine to provide 60 electoral votes, which would likely be enough for Romney to win. The Keystone State’s 20 electoral votes are still important, they’re just not a necessity for Mitt Romney.