YARDLEY, Pa. (AP) — Philadelphia and its heavily populated suburbs were the big focus of candidates’ attention on Sunday in Pennsylvania, just two days before voters pull the lever in a state that has emerged as a battleground for control of the White House and the U.S. Senate.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney headlined a Bucks County rally Sunday evening, capping an 11th-hour Republican blitz to win a state that has voted for Democrats in the last five presidential elections and many had believed its crucial 20 electoral votes would be in President Barack Obama’s column this time around, too.
A crowd of thousands — some 32,000 free tickets were requested — waited several hours in 40-degree temperatures at a farm in the Philadelphia suburb of Yardley to hear Romney underscore his pledge to bring real change to Washington and improve the economy.
After an introduction by Gov. Tom Corbett, Romney told the crowd at Shady Brook Farm that, on Day One of his presidency, he’ll send Congress a bill to cut spending and work to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
Greg Nelson, 45, a regular at local Republican rallies, had never seen Romney before and he made the half-hour drive from Croydon. Romney’s promises to increase defense spending was a particular issue favored by Nelson, a U.S. Navy veteran who runs a hospital’s heating and cooling systems and voted against Obama in 2008.
“I just like all the ideas Romney has with the military and that’s what Barack Obama is against,” Nelson said.
Earlier Sunday at a convention of the blue-collar Union of Operating Engineers Local 542 in the Philadelphia suburb of Fort Washington, both Republicans — U.S. Reps. Pat Meehan and Mike Fitzpatrick — and Democrats — U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and attorney general nominee Kathleen Kane — came to receive endorsements from a politically mixed crowd of hundreds.
At least one, Dan Young of Havertown, said he had not decided for whom to vote in the presidential race. The registered Republican voted for Obama in 2008, but is worried that the economy did not improve, as he had hoped it would when he voted for Obama four years ago. But a perceived Republican assault on the rights of labor unions also weighed on his mind, he said.
“I’m not really sure yet,” the 50-year-old Young said. The union leaders “are going to tell us Obama for the union. It’s the only place we’re getting our jobs and (Republicans) are trying to crush it. … We’ve got to stick together, because they’re taking the rights away from the little guy. We can’t all work at Wal-Mart.”
He also lamented the decision in front of him. No one in Washington, D.C. seems willing to compromise, and the choice in the election seems to be between polarized sides that do nothing but fight, he said.
“It’s a party line, and it’s not for the common good,” Young said. “It’s a shame.”
Another of the union members, John Biasiello, 54, a Democrat from the Philadelphia suburb of Folsom, said he was standing by Obama.
“He was handed a mess, and everything he tried to do he met a brick wall,” Biasiello said of the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.
Obama, Casey and Kane each lead in independent polls in Pennsylvania, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans 4-3. While others interviewed at the union convention had made up their minds in the presidential race, many were still learning the names of the candidates for U.S. Senate and attorney general.
Pennsylvania is key to Obama’s re-election chances and he won the state by more than 600,000 votes, or about 10 percentage points, in 2008. The traditional battleground state is a top Electoral College prize, and no Democrat has won the White House without Pennsylvania in 64 years.
Also, Democrats are counting on a Casey victory to maintain control of the chamber. But Casey is on course to be outspent by his Republican opponent, Tom Smith, by a margin of two-to-one, and some polls in the race have narrowed enough to call into question whether the political scion can hang onto his seat.
Obama has not campaigned in Pennsylvania since July 6. In his place, former President Bill Clinton will campaign in Pennsylvania on Monday, starting in Pittsburgh before traveling to Montgomery County, Philadelphia and Scranton.
In the campaign’s final days, Romney is making a concerted push into Pennsylvania, aided by outside political groups spending millions of dollars on last-minute ads to try to erode Obama’s support from 2008. Polling shows Obama holding on to a 4 or 5 percentage point lead over Romney, but the GOP candidate has been gaining ground.
With 1 in 5 of Pennsylvania’s 8.5 million registered voters living there, Philadelphia’s moderate suburbs of Chester, Delaware, Bucks and Montgomery counties are a reliable predictor of who will win the state. Voters there are highly educated and accustomed to splitting their tickets. The number grows to one in three registered Pennsylvania voters when counting the heavily Democratic city of Philadelphia.
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