Streetcar Line

Picking the Lock in the Keystone State

Pennsylvania's promise for McCain.

By 10.23.08

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There was a good reason why John McCain spent an entire day in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, speaking at three different rallies: because he can win the state and, with it, the presidency.

If I were McCain, I would order my campaign to put together TV and radio ads featuring just three items: Barack Obama's infamous jab about workers "clinging" to religion and guns out of bitterness, Democratic U.S. Rep. John Murtha's statement calling western Pennsylvanians racists while speaking in favor of Obama, and Murtha's garbled apology on the race statement in which he compounded the insult by saying: "What I mean is there's still folks that have a problem voting for someone because they are black," and that "This whole area, years ago, was really redneck."

"What Jack Murtha said in the past couple of days has helped [McCain] immeasurably," Pennsylvania's former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum told me on Tuesday.

I would run those 30-second ads back to back, every time, with another ad in which McCain calls for "bringing manufacturing jobs back home to Pennsylvania" by cutting corporate income taxes that are "sending all of our jobs offshore."

"In Ireland, they cut their corporate rate to 12.5% and started adding so many jobs they call Ireland the Celtic Tiger," he could say. "Our rate of 35% is three times that; why don't we cut it, bring home those jobs, and make our economy roar like Nittany Lions?"

I would then schedule even more McCain campaign appearances in the western part of the state, alongside former Steeler great and gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann and any of a number of other Pennsylvania heroes, whoever would do it -- perhaps Arnold Palmer. McCain should draw the contrasts with Obama as strongly as possible on being tough against terrorists, on support for the Second Amendment, for a sensible position against partial birth abortion as opposed to Obama's horrendous stance against the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, and against higher taxes of the sort Obama would impose on Joe the Plumber.

McCain should then go east and campaign in the Philadelphia suburbs with Arlen Specter, doing anything and everything Specter advises him to do. (I would think a nice mention of Sam Alito and of the "reasonableness" of the Gang of 14 as opposed to Obama's obstructionist on judges would help somewhere in the state, perhaps in the northeast, as well.) And Tom Ridge should be with him everywhere he goes.

Finally, the McCain camp should record robo-calls, to use anywhere in the state that is not in the congressional district of Paul Kanjorski, that feature the voice of Kanjorski challenger and Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta urging a vote for McCain based on his record on taxes and national defense -- and use the calls on Election Day only, as a get-out-the-vote mechanism. Barletta is a hero in almost every small town in the state for his efforts to force employers and landlords to stop catering to illegal immigrants.

The idea is that McCain has a chance to combine the winning formulas of Santorum and of Specter: Using conservative cultural issues in the rural areas, like Santorum did, along with some good last-minute efforts to have conservative Catholics and Evangelicals "go viral" with a massive get-out-the-vote effort; and using his moderate credentials (peacemaker on judges, supporter of clean coal as opposed to the Obama-Biden slams at coal, crusader against corruption, and the guy who tried to pass legislation long in advance to rein in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac) to attract the state's eastern moderates who have kept Specter in office all these years.

The Democratic gaffes on God, guns, race, and coal, along with the state's broad swath of more culturally conservative and pro-defense defense voters, along with some clever campaigning, can make Pennsylvania more winnable by McCain than any other 2000 and 2004 "blue" state with the possible exception of New Hampshire. Those factors together may even make McCain stronger in Pennsylvania than he is in 2004 blue states such as New Mexico and Iowa.

If McCain somehow picks up Pennsylvania, his campaign all of a sudden becomes far, far easier. The arithmetic looks like this: President Bush won 286 electoral votes. It takes 270 to win. McCain appears likely to lose Bush states Iowa (7) and New Mexico (5), and could lose Nevada (5) as well. That brings him down to a 269-269 tie, which would likely mean an eventual loss in the House of Representatives. But if McCain wins the Keystone State, with its 21 electoral votes, he can lose those three states plus, say, Missouri (11) and Colorado (9), and still win. If he wins Pennsylvania and New Hampshire, he can lose Virginia (13) and Missouri (while still holding Colorado) and still emerge victorious. Or he could lose New Hampshire but win Nevada, and he would even have an elector to spare.

Granted, there is no way for the Arizonan to win Pennsylvania if he loses nationally by more than about four points. But if he pulls within three points nationally, he might just snatch Pennsylvania even if he falls short in some of the other states where Bush triumphed.

Way back in the spring, my colleague at the Washington Examiner, West Virginia native Chris Stirewalt, accurately predicted an Appalachian backlash in the Democratic primaries in favor of Hillary Clinton over Obama. Guns and God are important in the hills of West Virginia, southeastern Ohio, eastern Kentucky, and western Pennsylvania. And rural Pennsylvanians, I am reliably told, are particularly turned off by the airs of the coastal, liberal elites, the folks like Obama who went to Columbia and Harvard and then opine about how "bitter" the poor hillbillies are. McCain can tap into those Appalachian values, and do it honorably, and snatch Pennsylvania right out from under Obama's snooty nose.

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About the Author
Quin Hillyer is a senior editor of The American Spectator and a senior fellow at the Center for Individual Freedom. Follow him on Twitter @QuinHillyer.