Opinion: Columnists

Can Romney pull off a Pa. upset?

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Photo - SANFORD, FL - NOVEMBER 05:  Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greets supporters during a campaign rally at Avion Jet Center on November 5, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. With one day to go until election day, Mitt Romney is making one final push throughout swing states.  (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SANFORD, FL - NOVEMBER 05: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney greets supporters during a campaign rally at Avion Jet Center on November 5, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. With one day to go until election day, Mitt Romney is making one final push throughout swing states. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Opinion,Columnists,Sean Higgins,Campaign 2012

Mitt Romney took the stage Sunday evening at a huge rally in Bucks County, Pa., to the theme from Rocky. It seemed an inspired choice -- the movie is set in nearby Philadelphia, so it qualifies as a hometown anthem. The soaring horns certainly pumped up the crowd.

Then again, how many people remember that while Rocky "goes the distance" in the original film, he still loses on points to the reigning champ, Apollo Creed?

This is how a struggling campaign ends: hoping to pull out a prove-the-pollsters-and-pundits-wrong upset victory in a state long written off for them. For the Romney campaign, Pennsylvania is one of those goals.

The crowd that turned out at the event in Bucks County was large enough -- somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 on a bitterly chilly night -- for the Republicans to think that maybe they could do it. Paul Ryan pulled another 3,500 or so for an event at an airport hangar in Harrisburg the previous day.

Certainly, the Republicans were pumped up. "Pennsylvania is in play!" said Gov. Tom Corbett, warming up the Bucks County crowd for Romney. The candidate himself said his campaign "has developed into a movement."

Several insisted there was a GOP surge in the works. "I have not seen an Obama sign anywhere," said Curt Gasper, a Southampton real estate agent and Tea Party activist. Gasper boasted on having converted 30 Obama voters to Romney. "My secretary is Jewish, and she's voting for Mitt!" he exclaimed.

The people at these events were overwhelmingly blue collar and white. They had long since soured on Obama and bristled at his campaign's claims that the economy was recovering. Maria Peters, a Spring City accountant at the Paul Ryan rally, had been laid off and without work for nine months before finding another job.

"It took a lot longer than I thought," she said.

The Marshall Tucker Band drove the point home when serenading the Romney crowd with their hit "Can't You See," with the chorus amended to "What Obama's been doing to me."

But large, boisterous crowds and claims of grassroots surges often accompany losing campaigns in their waning days. At this stage of race, the events become their own little world apart from the voting booth. For the campaigns and the activists, separating the facts from their own wishful thinking becomes nearly impossible.

And the facts are rough for the Romney campaign. About 50 percent of voters in Pennsylvania are registered Democrats versus only 36 percent with the GOP. No Republican presidential candidate has won the state since George H.W. Bush in 1988. George W. Bush and John McCain concluded their campaigns in 2000 and 2008 with late pushes here too, only to come away empty-handed. Obama won by 606,000 votes in 2008, a 10-point margin.

And according to RealClearPolitics.com, Romney has not led in a single major poll in the state since February. Most have Obama leading between three to six points, though one poll by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review last week had the race tied at 47 percent.

One outlier among the pundits is The Washington Examiner's Michael Barone. His Friday column predicted a GOP victory in the state based on high turnout in its pro-coal western regions. A few in the crowd excitedly mentioned Barone's prediction.

We will know Wednesday whether the other polls and pundits were wrong. And conservative Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., was quick to point out that anything can happen: "A state that can elect me," he said, "can elect Paul Ryan."

Sean Higgins (shiggins@washingtonexaminer.com) is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner. Follow him on Twitter at @seanghiggins.

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