Accessibility links

Breaking News

McCain Fights for Pennsylvania, but Obama Ahead in Polls

The eastern U.S. state of Pennsylvania, with its 21 electoral votes, has voted for the Democratic Party in recent presidential elections, but the campaign of Republican John McCain believes it can manage a victory. Even though Democrat Barack Obama has a healthy lead in the Pennsylvania polls, McCain is pouring in resources and making frequent visits hoping to attract support. VOA's Bill Rodgers was in Pennsylvania and reports on the ground game by the two campaigns to win the state.

The Rosebowl bowling alley in Allentown, Pennsylvania. In this largely working-class city, hit hard by the slowing economy, some of these bowlers are backing Barack Obama. Amber Miller, a mother of two young children, is one.

"He just knows what America needs better than what McCain does," she said.

Barack Obama failed to score with many Pennsylvania voters last April when he lost the Democratic primary by a wide margin to Hillary Clinton. She won by connecting more easily with white, blue-collar voters.

Now, even though polls show Obama comfortably ahead in Pennsylvania, rival John McCain sees an opportunity to win by attracting those who voted against Obama in the primary.

"It is great to be here in Pennsylvania, and my friends, we need to win in Pennsylvania on November the 4th," he said.

McCain and his running mate, Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, have made frequent visits to Pennsylvania in an effort to win the state's 21 electoral votes. With a shrinking electoral map of states that favor the Republicans, Pennsylvania has become a must-win for McCain.

Randall Miller is a history professor at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia who specializes in regional politics.

"If they were to even hint that they are giving up on Pennsylvania, it might be a stampede away from the campaign," he said.

"It would almost be like throwing up their hands and saying 'we cannot do it'. So just in terms of morale, in terms of symbolism, etcetera, they have to compete here, and that is what they are doing. They are continuing to pour money into Pennsylvania," he added.

At the McCain field office in Montgomery county outside Philadelphia, campaign volunteers show no sign of giving up. They fill the office, the only one in the county, as they make calls and stuff envelopes with campaign literature in the effort to attract support.

Volunteer Traci Dallas-Opdahl, an independent, is just the kind of voter John McCain wants to attract.

"I really like John McCain and what he stands for, which is really actually independence, he said. "He is his own man, he thinks for himself and he really puts his country before politics."

Montgomery is an affluent county, rich in Republican votes, and the McCain campaign hopes for a big win to offset Senator Obama's large expected victory margins elsewhere in the state, especially in Philadelphia with its large African-American population.

But the Obama campaign senses opportunity in the county, and has opened six field offices there. In the town of Ambler, the field office is packed with volunteers, most using their own cell phones to contact voters.

Volunteer coordinator Doreen Davis, who has worked in several prior presidential campaigns, says she has never seen anything like the level of commitment of these volunteers.

"There are people in this room, school teachers who have recently retired in the area, union workers who are not going in until the night shift tonight," she said. "So yes, I think it is surprising - both the breadth and the depth."

Labor unions have deployed hundreds of members - many from out of state - to work on behalf of the Obama campaign. In Bethlehem, once the second largest producer of steel in the country, members of the United Steelworkers Union go door to door distributing campaign literature for Obama.

But local steelworkers union head Jerry Green senses some resistance among people who normally vote Democratic. The reason, he says, is Obama's skin color.

"I have had conversations with people and you know I can tell it, I can tell," said Green. "They will not come out and tell me they would not vote for a black man but, you know, I just got that feeling. If Barack Obama were white, I think this would be a landslide."

But the poor state of the economy may outweigh any vestiges of racial prejudice. .

"Some might vote for McCain as a way of resisting for what to them would not be a brave new world, but a world turned upside down," said Professor Randall Miller. "And others are going to overcome it because there are other concerns besides that and they are going to say 'what is in my best interest.'"

As for young people race does not seem to be a factor.

Those who oppose Obama, such as Chad Corchran of Penn State University, say they do so for other reasons.

"McCain is not perfect, but I think we can believe in him more than Obama," he said.

But more students are like Alysa Harder, who supports Obama.

"Barack Obama is really inspiring, and I think people really feel connected to him and are really excited about him," she said.

Young people, who accounted for about 17 percent of the electorate in 2004, do not always turn out on Election Day. But Penn State political scientist Michael Berkman says this year turnout might reach 19 percent because of the excitement generated by Obama.

Ultimately, Berkman predicts Pennsylvania will go Democrat - noting Senator Obama has been spending less time campaigning in the state.

"I believe they think they are going to win it," he said. "I am noticing they are not spending a whole lot of time here these days. They are spending most of their time in red states [states that vote Republican]. I would think we would see them more if they felt they were in trouble in Pennsylvania."

With 1.2 million more registered Democrats than Republicans in Pennsylvania, Barack Obama appears to be counting on victory in this reliably blue state - a victory that could dash any hope John McCain has of winning the presidency.