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Experts: Presidential campaign in Pennsylvania looks like '04

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Off Road Politics connects Washington with Main Street hosted by Salena Zito and Lara Brown PhD. Exclusive radio show on @TribLIVE

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Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012, 9:17 p.m.

Some experts believe the presidential campaign in Pennsylvania looks familiar — 2004, perhaps?

In that campaign, Republican President George Bush and Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee, battled for independent and undecided voters amid a deeply polarized electorate. A Tribune-Review poll suggests a similar dynamic in 2012 as Democratic President Obama squares off with GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

So the Trib asked two seasoned political strategists to explain how they would command the final weeks of the race.

Former Democratic Party state chairman T.J. Rooney and Republican strategist Dick Brabender agree the candidate who wins the suburbs of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh will emerge victorious.

“Get your voters out,” said Rooney, a former Lehigh County lawmaker. “I know that that sounds oversimplified, but I cannot stress the importance of identifying who your voters are and making sure that you have a system in place to physically get them to the polls on Election Day.”

Obama holds an edge, since registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 1.2 million, but “Republican voters are much more excited about voting against Obama than Obama voters are about turning out to vote again,” Rooney said.

Rooney does not believe the race is as close as the Trib survey, conducted by Susquehanna Polling and Research, suggests. “On the other hand, if I am running this thing, I am running as if I am 2 points behind,” he said.

Brabender, an Erie native who successfully engineered statewide races for Republicans, most recently worked with former Sen. Rick Santorum in the GOP presidential primaries.

Brabender would take advantage of the “right track, wrong track” numbers on the economy to lock in soft supporters.

“The message would be to get the narrative beyond Romney reminding voters of the failed policies of the president and get them to believe Romney can do a better job and take America to a better place,” he said.

That would require giving voters more exposure to Romney, whose campaign isn't advertising in the state. Brabender would air ads that aren't exclusively negative.

“The jobs numbers are great negative ads all into themselves,” he said. “So instead of attacking Obama with an ad, have one with Romney interacting with his wife, Ann. It would allow voters to make a judgment on him on a personal level.”

Brabender would deploy campaign surrogates to talk to people in sportsmen clubs, small businesses and elsewhere to tell people how the Obama administration's policies have affected their lives.

“These voters want to know Romney shares their values — want to see the contrast between him and Obama,” he said. “They need people who can talk to them about the impact of regulation in our manufacturing segment, China's impact on trade, and talk about, specifically, gun rights.”

Salena Zito is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at

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