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Has Barack Obama taken Pennsylvania out of play?

October 6, 2008 | 11:06 am

Pennsylvania is to Barack Obama what Ohio is to John McCain -- a large, politically competitive state that he almost assuredly has to win to have any chance of moving into the White House.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain speaks during a recent campaign stop in Pennsylvania For much of the general election campaign, Pennsylvania seemed completely in play  -- a worrisome situation for Obama and his strategists.

His loss there in April's Democratic presidential primary to Hillary Clinton spotlighted his difficulties with working-class white voters.

Throughout the summer, most polls gave Obama an edge over McCain in the state but placed the Republican well within striking range to grab its 21 electoral votes.

And McCain clearly thought he had a good shot at them -- since June, he's visited the Keystone State 17 times.

Over the next two weeks or so, however, it will be worth watching how often -- if at all -- McCain's itinerary takes him to Pennsylvania or whether, alternatively, his campaign starts to scale back its efforts there.

The reason -- two new surveys, one taken at the end of September, the other during the first few days of this month, showing....

...Obama with a substantial lead.

Setting aside such polls as, by nature, ephermal (and perhaps flat-out wrong), a Washington Post story today that surveyed voter-registration trends in several states offered numbers that spell out the daunting challenge facing McCain in Pennsylvania. Here it is:

This year, 474,000 Democrats have been added to the rolls in Pennsylvania -- while the GOP rolls have actually lost 38,000 voters.

The state's Republican chairman, Robert Gleason Jr., can be counted on to urge the McCain's campaign not to give up hope of carrying the state. In a New York Times story Sunday that surveyed the electoral landscape, he insisted the recent polling was off-base and that Obama "is not catching on here.”

And despite the poll numbers and the registration figures, the suspicion lingers among political analysts that Pennsylvania still offers fertile ground for McCain -- especially as his campaign renews attacks on Obama for his connection to the likes of Bill Ayers.

Opined MSNBC's "First Note" political briefing this morning: "Of the remaining blue (traditionally Democratic) states in play, Pennsylvania may be the most culturally sensitive and may explain why the McCain folks want to shift the debate a bit to character. ... Shifting the campaign to character isn't about changing the national narrative; it's about keeping the undecided column larger in Pennsylvania."

If so, we'll be expecting another McCain stop in the state soon.

-- Don Frederick

Photo credit: Getty Images

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