The state Republican Party enjoyed a break Friday in what has been a drumbeat of bad news from pollsters about the chances of Pennsylvania’s top-of-the-ticket GOP candidates in the Nov. 6 general election, just 39 days away.
A wave of polls that emerged over the past week in Pennsylvania showed presidential nominee Mitt Romney, U.S. Senate nominee Tom Smith and attorney general nominee David Freed trailing their Democratic counterparts, in some cases by double digits.
But Friday, Pennsylvanians got to see Romney in their state for the first time since July, the state party aired the first ad in the presidential race in Pennsylvania since August, and a couple hundred faithful got a pep talk from party leaders, Gov. Tom Corbett and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal at a dinner event in suburban Harrisburg.
Party officials are trying to keep enthusiasm up, now that the presidential battle has all but abandoned Pennsylvania after a flood of TV ads over the summer. U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly used the Oakland Raiders’ come-from-behind-win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday as an example.
“When people tell me we’re not doing well, we’re not running a very good race … I say, you know what, see me at the end of the game,” Kelly told the crowd. “We’re nowhere near the end, and you know that.”
Those big gaps in the independent polls? Don’t believe them, party officials say.
Those polls err by surveying too many Democrats, whose enthusiasm for President Barack Obama won’t be what it was in 2008, said state party executive director Michael Barley. As an example, he cited requests for absentee ballots by Republicans and Democrats that are about tied currently, compared with the 2008 election when Democrats requested substantially more. That year, Obama went on to beat Republican John McCain by about 10 percentage points in Pennsylvania.
The Republican Party also has a proud tradition of winning races, despite being outnumbered in Pennsylvania by registered Democrats 4-3, and getting a bigger proportion of its voters to the polls. In Allegheny County, home to more Republicans than any other county in the state, party volunteers are placing more calls and knocking on more doors than they did in past races, said county chairman Jim Roddey.
“It’s going to come down to turnout,” Roddey said.
Muhlenberg College pollster and political science professor Christopher Borick said erasing a polling deficit in a race’s final weeks is the exception to the rule. But the higher number of undecided Pennsylvania voters in the races for U.S. Senate and attorney general mean Smith and Freed have a better chance than Romney at turning things around, Borick said.
“When you have a decent lead going into the homestretch and the candidates are fairly well known, it’s hard” to erase a deficit, Borick said.
Still, there’s been a bright spot or two amid the polls. Smith, a virtual unknown from rural Armstrong County who made a small fortune in the coal-mining business, gained 43 percent support to Democratic Sen. Bob Casey’s 49 percent in a poll by Quinnipiac University, closing an 18-point gap in a poll nearly two months ago.
“We’re closing the gap rapidly, we know it is a single-digit race,” Smith campaign manager Jim Conroy said.
It helps that Smith is digging deep into his own pockets. After spending more than $5.5 million to win a five-way primary — much of it his own money — he has told Roddey and other party leaders that he’s investing another $10 million of his own money in the race.
And it shows. Smith’s TV advertisements have virtually blanketed the state since late July — at a cost in excess of $4 million, according to Casey’s campaign.
Casey, a first-term Democrat and former state auditor general and treasurer whose father was governor, began advertising in the expensive Philadelphia TV market on Friday, more than a month after Smith began.