"REAL Unemployment is 15 percent. FIRE OBAMA."
So says a giant billboard along the Pennsylvania Turnpike heading north from Breezewood through Somerset.
As I drive a few miles more, there's another billboard, this one with a guy with a gasoline nozzle in his ear. It declares, "Vote Change, Vote No-Obama."
As I continue upward through this natural gas and coal country, I see more and more signs, erected in farmer's fields, taped to cars. I pass a minivan with writing on the back windshield: "$4.00 per gallon gasoline? Are you kidding me?!"
As I go further through Western Pennsylvania, into the small towns north of Pittsburgh, I see Romney/Ryan signs absolutely everywhere, dwarfing the number of Obama/Biden signs -- and far exceeding the depressing ratio of McCain vs. Obama signs four years ago. I even see Romney/Ryan signs placed next to empty chairs, evoking the Clint Eastwood image of our president. And where I don't see a Romney/Ryan sign, I observe a "Preserve Freedom: Fire Obama" placard, or another that says "Are You Better Off Now Than Four Years Ago?"
What I'm trying to say is that I'm seeing in Pennsylvania a pro-Romney, pro-Republican, anti-Obama enthusiasm that is downright remarkable. And when I don't see it, I hear about it. And it isn't confined to western Pennsylvania, which is far more conservative than eastern Pennsylvania. A Romney rally at Bucks County over the weekend drew tens of thousands, with some projections over 30,000. Understand that eastern Pennsylvania is completely different from the western part of the state. It's more like New Jersey, both in proximity and politics. Even there, however, Romney's support is very strong.
Am I arguing that Mitt Romney will win Pennsylvania this November 6, 2012? Yes, I believe he will.
For the record, I'm hardly an optimist. Every four years my hopes for Pennsylvania and the presidential race are raised and rudely squashed. I've learned never to be positive about this state. It's because of Philadelphia, which ruins this state's politics. It isn't Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is an old-time Democrat stronghold, but Pittsburgh's Democrats are blue collar and tend to be socially conservative -- they're about God and guns. They are pro-life, churchgoing, and certainly not gay-marriage advocates. Their favorite pastime is shooting deer and watching the Steelers. (I'm with them on that, by the way.) It's their union that keeps them voting Democrat -- but not all of them.
The hardcore liberal element in this state is southeast in the Philadelphia area. Once you move away from Philadelphia, heading north and west, Pennsylvania is redder than red. The rest of the state needs to vote overwhelmingly Republican to offset the massive Democratic vote in Philadelphia. And this time, for the first time in over 20 years, I picture that happening.
There are other factors and indicators. I know Tea Party people in western Pennsylvania who are sick and tired of being called racists merely for disagreeing with Obama's fiscal madness; they realize the only way to change that is to defeat Obama. They are mobilizing. They are organized and eager. They are quietly pushing hard.
Another factor is Tom Smith, the Republican nominee for the Pennsylvania Senate, who is challenging the incumbent Democrat, Bob Casey, Jr. Two months ago, I would have bet my house against Tom Smith. There was no way he had even a remote chance. The latest polls, however, show Smith with an excellent chance to win Casey's seat.
Finally, this is a state with a Republican senator, Pat Toomey, with a Republican governor and legislature (both houses), and with Republicans holding a majority of congressional districts. It is the only staunchly pro-life state in the northeast. It is religious, with large numbers of evangelicals and Catholics. This is not a liberal state. George W. Bush lost it narrowly in 2004. Obama won it handily in 2008; he will not win it this Tuesday.