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Pennsylvania may be keystone in presidential race

| Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2012, 8:36 p.m.

As former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's campaign makes a last-minute attempt to win Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes, a new poll shows the Republican nominee trailing President Obama by 4 percentage points, within the poll's margin of error.

Both campaigns generally ignored the state, which hasn't voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988, for most of this year's campaign. But Romney and some political action committees supporting him bought millions of dollars in advertising this week, prompting Obama's campaign to do the same. Obama's lead in the Franklin & Marshall College poll is less than half what it was in the same poll last month.

“The economy ... remains the paramount issue. Romney made a huge gain on who can best fix the economy,” said G. Terry Madonna, the poll's director.

The poll of 547 likely voters, conducted Oct. 23-28, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. leads Republican Tom Smith by 11 percentage points, according to the poll, which is similar to his lead in the September poll. Fourteen percent of people remain undecided in the race.

Despite Smith sinking at least $17 million of his own money into his campaign, 45 percent of voters are undecided about what they think of him or don't know enough to form an opinion. One-third of voters say the same about Casey, who has held statewide elected office since 1997.

Madonna credits Romney's performance in the first presidential debate with reversing his campaign's late-summer slide by offering voters a more acceptable picture.

He trailed Obama by 4 percentage points on the question of who's best able to fix the economy in a Franklin & Marshall Poll last month, before the debates. The most recent poll shows Romney leading Obama on that issue 47 percent to 42 percent.

The percentage of people with a favorable view of Romney rose from 34 percent in the September poll to 43 percent in the most recent poll.

“That's transformative,” Madonna said.

Obama, though, continues to hold the edge here, with 50 percent of voters having a favorable view of him. He leads Romney in other areas as well, including who is most prepared to deal with foreign policy and who best understands the concerns of ordinary Americans. On the latter, the president leads 54 percent to 39 percent.

The campaigns have focused on several swing states during the past two months, with the primary focus on Ohio, where polls show the two neck-and-neck. If Romney loses Ohio, he would have to win nearly every other swing state to reach 270 electoral votes, Madonna said. Likewise, the Obama campaign counts Pennsylvania in all but one of its winning scenarios.

Romney's campaign still is likely to focus far more on Ohio, but with all the cash it raised, the campaign can afford to make a play for Pennsylvania's 20 electoral votes, Madonna said.

“All things being equal, it's about Ohio. But if that falls apart, maybe (Romney) can cherry-pick Pennsylvania,” Madonna said.

Mike Wereschagin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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