Published: Apr 10, 2012
Romney Ready To Take On Obama in General Election
by Salena Zito

Republican front-runner Mitt Romney considers Pennsylvania a key swing state for the fall presidential election and is certain he will win here, he told the Tribune-Review in an interview on Thursday.

"Voters in this state and across the country are looking for a conservative leader to guide and serve the American people so that we can reignite the economy, put the country back on track and balance the budget," he said.

The former Massachusetts governor said he is certain "the people of Pennsylvania will elect me president because they see the need for conservative, principled leadership."

In 2010, he noted, Pennsylvanians chose two conservatives, Gov. Tom Corbett and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, because people "were thinking about leadership."

Romney opened his Harrisburg office, where he and four volunteers from Mechanicsburg telephoned Republicans from a small room on the third floor, urging them to vote in the April 24 primary. In his first call, he told a supporter named Lois from Kingston to "get some friends to get out and vote with you. ... I need every vote I can get."

"He's sitting right here next to me!" volunteer Sherrie-Kaye Miller, 51, said into her phone as Romney studied a list of likely primary voters.

A Public Policy Polling survey released yesterday showed Romney leading former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania in his home state, 42 percent to 37 percent. The poll found 9 percent of voters prefer Rep. Ron Paul of Texas and 6 percent, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich conducted on Wednesday, the poll of 403 likely voters has an error margin of 4.9 percentage points.

But a telephone survey taken by Rasmussen Reports on the same day found Santorum leading Romney, 42 percent to 38 percent. That survey of 750 likely Republican primary voters has a sampling error of plus or minus 4 percent.

Romney acknowledged that most candidates expect to win their home states, including Santorum, who moved from Penn Hills to Virginia after his 2006 loss to Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton. Santorum yesterday took a four-day break for the Easter holiday, and his campaign said he would resume campaigning next week.

Among Romney's stops was a visit to natural gas production company Mountain Energy Services in Tunkhannock.

"I have great respect for the work ethic, patriotism, the creativity and the determination of the people of this state," Romney told the Trib. "I also understand the difficult times they have been through and that they want change, not just flowing rhetoric."

He said he is confident voters will choose him over President Obama this fall because Obama "has not delivered on his promises. His presidency has failed." Obama has made America "a more government-centered society," Romney said.

Though Obama easily won the Keystone State in 2008, Romney said he thinks the president does not understand its people and has not attempted to know them.

"If he did, he would understand the determination to succeed here," Romney said. "... Pennsylvanians have weathered turbulent economic times, and the state has emerged as one of the leading industrial and technological states in the country."

The last Republican to win Pennsylvania in a general election was George H.W. Bush in 1988. Since Obama's win, Republicans won statewide judicial races in 2009 and 2010, five U.S. House seats, Toomey's Senate seat and the governor's mansion. The party now holds majorities in both chambers of the state legislature.

To carry Pennsylvania, Romney needs to appeal to blue-collar, Roman Catholic and rural white voters and to keep white-collar and independent voters in Philadelphia's suburbs from choosing Obama, said Curt Nichols, a political science professor at Baylor University. That's tricky, he said, because these constituents don't share values or views on issues.

Trying to juggle such constituencies can make Romney appear awkward or disconnected, but Blair County Sheriff Mitch Cooper said he thinks that image is overblown.

"I am a Romney guy," said Cooper. "I spent 30 years as a police officer, and I have no problem connecting with him."

Cooper said he tires of hearing how bad things are and wants Romney to talk about "the exceptional things everyday people accomplish, and how he will take us to a better America together."

Romney could do that in Pennsylvania by becoming "a fighter for energy opportunities," said Nichols.

At the Wyoming County gas company, Romney criticized proposed climate regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency.

"It is bad economics, plus it risks our energy security," he said. "(Obama) has been an anti-energy president, refusing to use our natural resources that are bountiful in Pennsylvania. And it's not just the shale gas and coal companies that could benefit the state with jobs but all of the other industries that supply or serve them."

Democrats who are disenchanted with Obama, such as John Walden of Mechanicsburg, could help Romney this fall.

"Yeah, I am disappointed," said Walden, a businessman who voted for Obama in 2008 but might not bother to vote this year. "I've gotten to the point where I am fed up with all of them."

Minorities and young people who also pulled away from Obama could help Romney close the margin, said Kevan Yenerall, a Clarion University political science professor.

"This race is shaping up to be very close in Pennsylvania," Yenerall said.

Salena Zito is a Tribune-Review Political Reporter

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