HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — After a presidential campaign distinguished more by sporadic TV commercials than candidate visits to the state, Pennsylvania voters will help choose the nation’s leader and elect a U.S. senator, a state attorney general and dozens of other government leaders in Tuesday’s election.
The White House race picked up this week as Republican nominee Mitt Romney made plans to visit a Philadelphia suburb Sunday in his first foray into the state since September and his campaign and its conservative allies mounted an 11th-hour advertising blitz.
Pennsylvania has the fifth-most electoral votes, 20, and the state has traditionally been a battleground, but President Barack Obama’s steady lead in independent polls has relegated it to a relative backwater this year. Obama has not visited the state since July.
State GOP Chairman Rob Gleason insisted that Romney has the momentum to carry the state and win the election.
“The electorate is very unsettled,” Gleason said Friday. “It’s been terrible for the average voter. … He’s going to seek relief from what is ailing him.”
But Jim Burn, the state’s Democratic chairman, said Romney’s visit is a desperate act that shows his campaign is stalled in once more-promising swing states like Ohio.
“The Republicans are in Pennsylvania only because they have nowhere else to go,” Burn said. Democrats have carried Pennsylvania in the past five presidential elections.
Terry Madonna, a Franklin & Marshall College pollster, said he expects nearly 60 percent of the 9.9 million Pennsylvanians age 18 or older to turn out at the polls Tuesday.
Nearly 8.5 million voters are registered in Pennsylvania, including 4.3 million Democrats and 3.1 million Republicans, according to state elections officials.
The polls are open 7 a.m.-8 p.m.
The most closely watched statewide races are for U.S. Senate and attorney general.
The Senate contest pits Democratic incumbent Bob Casey, the namesake son of the late governor and a former elected state official who is an ally of organized labor, against political newcomer Tom Smith, a tea party conservative who has financed his campaign mostly with millions of dollars from the fortune he made in the mining business.
Smith argued in their only debate that his business experience makes him a better judge of how to improve the national economy, while Casey portrayed Smith as someone who would deepen the partisan divide in Congress.
In the race for attorney general, Democrat Kathleen Kane bills herself as “a prosecutor, not a politician,” while Republican David Freed contends that his seven years as Cumberland County’s elected attorney general better prepared him to be the state’s chief legal officer.
If Kane wins, she would become the first Democrat and the first woman to be elected attorney general since the office became an elected position in 1980. In her first electoral bid, the Scranton resident defeated former U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy in the April primary.
Freed, of Camp Hill, ran unopposed in the Republican primary after Gov. Tom Corbett endorsed him. Freed’s father-in-law was the state’s first elected attorney general.
Attorney General Linda Kelly, whom Corbett appointed to complete his term as attorney general after he was elected governor, agreed in advance not to run for a full term.
Election Day will cap a politically contentious year in Pennsylvania.
Candidates for Congress are running in 18 districts newly drawn by Republicans who control the Legislature in a redistricting process that Democratic critics said stacked the deck against them. The GOP holds 12 of the state’s 19 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, but the state lost one seat as a result of the 2010 census.
Also, after a court battle that raged most of the year, civil-rights lawyers won a temporary victory in their challenge of new law that requires voters to show photo identification in order for their ballots to count. A state judge suspended the photo ID requirement for this election, but the law’s constitutionality remains in litigation.
The low-key race for auditor general, the state’s independent fiscal watchdog, matches two legislators who are simultaneously running for re-election to the House. Incumbent Jack Wagner is stepping down after serving the maximum two consecutive terms.
Republican candidate John Maher of Allegheny County emphasizes his credentials as a certified public accountant, though that is not a prerequisite for the job. Democrat Eugene DePasquale of York County cites his experience in both the legislative and executive branches of state government.
State Treasurer Rob McCord’s bid for a second four-year term is being challenged by Republican Diana Irey Vaughan, a Washington County commissioner since 1995.
Vaughan has criticized McCord, a Democrat, for not doing enough to avert a looming state pension crisis and to reduce state debt but offered no proposals for change.
McCord has defended his record and said his ability to influence decisions affecting the state’s two major pension funds is limited because he has only one vote on each board.
McCord is a former venture capitalist from suburban Philadelphia. His election as treasurer in 2008 marked his first election campaign.
In Congress, Republicans hope to build on their majority, including a victory in the newly reshaped 12th District in western Pennsylvania, where Democratic U.S. Rep. Mark Critz faces a strong re-election challenge from conservative Republican Keith Rothfus.
In the Legislature, badly outnumbered in both chambers, Democrats hope to chip away at the Republican majorities by turning the election into a referendum on politically hot GOP initiatives, including the voter-identification law and cuts in public school subsidies.
The Green and Libertarian parties both fielded presidential candidates. The Libertarian Party, which overcame a GOP-backed challenge that forced a protracted review of tens of thousands of petition signatures, also put up candidates for Senate and the row offices.
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)