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Is Pennsylvania really in play?

By Paul Steinhauser, CNN Political Editor
November 5, 2012 -- Updated 1353 GMT (2153 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Pennsylvania was once considered safely in the column of Obama, who won there handily in 2008
  • Both Romney and Ryan are campaigning in the state in the campaign's final days
  • Romney campaign and super PACs outspending Obama and allies on ads by 2-1 margin
  • Obama campaign calls GOP efforts to take the state "desperate hunt" for electoral votes

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- "Hey, Pennsylvania, you going to help us win this election?"

That question from Republican running mate Paul Ryan on Saturday was met with very loud applause from the crowd at a rally he headlined at the airport in the Keystone State's capital.

Ryan's boss, GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, holds a rally Sunday in Bucks County in suburban Philadelphia, the key swing region of the state, which has been considered safely in President Barack Obama's hands.

After being far from the spotlight for most of the general election campaign, Pennsylvania -- and its 20 electoral votes -- is getting a lot of last-minute attention.

Do the math: CNN Electoral College calculator

Turn on the TV during local newscasts and the commercial breaks are flooded with campaign ads.

"Twenty-three million looking for full time work. Middle class incomes falling," says the narrator in a commercial by the pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future that's running on broadcast TV in Pennsylvania.

Nearly $10 million is being spent to run spots over the final nine days leading up to Election Day, with the Romney campaign and its allied super PACs outspending Obama's campaign and pro-Obama groups by around a 2-1 margin.

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But the Obama campaign isn't sitting back. Jill Biden, the wife of the Pennsylvania-born vice president, campaigned in the Keystone State this weekend, and the Obama campaign's big gun, former President Bill Clinton, is scheduled to stump for Obama in Pennsylvania on Monday.

Then-Vice President George H.W. Bush's 1988 victory in the state was the last time a Republican carried Pennsylvania in a presidential election. But the state remained competitive in the following presidential cycles, until four years ago, when Obama carried Pennsylvania by 10 points over Sen. John McCain.

But two years ago, the GOP enjoyed a strong showing in the midterm elections, winning back the governor's office, a Senate seat and five House seats from the Democrats.

The state has seen little of the presidential tickets in this cycle. But last month the polls started tightening, as the president's once-solid lead shrank to a single-digit advantage.

A Franklin and Marshall College poll released last Wednesday indicated Obama with a 49%-45% edge over Romney, which is within the survey's sampling error and was down from the nine-point lead he had in September.

"Can I just tell you how red Pennsylvania's going to be on Tuesday," said Republican Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania at the Ryan rally to applause. "Because I know how red it's going to be -- this red, okay," he said as he pointed to the red jacket he was wearing. "This is the color of Pennsylvania on Tuesday."

The Romney campaign sees the late push in Pennsylvania as a plan to expand its electoral map.

"We feel like they're defending territory while we're on offense," Romney campaign spokesman Kevin Madden told reporters last week.

And since Pennsylvania escaped the deluge of campaign ads over the late spring, summer and early autumn, it wasn't exposed to the many Obama commercials that sought to negatively define the GOP nominee and the Romney campaign might have a better chance of changing minds in Pennsylvania than in some of the battleground states that saw those ads.

The Obama campaign shoots back at talk that Pennsylvania might actually be in play.

"You see the Romney campaign and their allies heading into three states they are simply not going to win: Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota. I am so confident of that, that I've put my mustache on the line," senior Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod told reporters last week.

Rival campaign advisers talk battlegrounds

And the Obama campaign describes the late push by Romney into Pennsylvania as a sign of desperation.

"Mitt Romney sent Congressman Ryan to Pennsylvania today on a desperate hunt for a path to 270 electoral votes. That's because the states that have actually heard from Romney and Ryan throughout this campaign aren't buying what they're selling," Obama spokesman Danny Kanner said Saturday.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama's first White House chief of staff, says that the campaign stops by Jill Biden and Clinton in the Keystone State are not a sign that Pennsylvania is in play.

"It's a close election. B, you nail everything down. And C, I think Pennsylvania is secure, but you don't take anything for granted. And that means you -- there are going to be a lot of people going back to Ohio in the 96 hours, multiple times. They'll go to Pennsylvania," Emanuel told CNN Chief Political Correspondent Candy Crowley on CNN's "State of the Union."

"But that doesn't mean that it's slipping. It just means that the natural tiding of a race. But the president's in a strong position because of the policies," added Emanuel.

McCain made an unsuccessful late push into Pennsylvania four years ago. We'll find out on Tuesday if Romney's late push is more successful.

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