Mitt Romney’s currently enjoying a comfortable lead in many state polls and the $25-$30 million in donations he’s said to have brought in this quarter will likely dwarf his opponents’ hauls. But it’s early. Michele Bachmann is rising. Tim Pawlenty and Jon Huntsman are not as well known. So then, why is Romney spending Thursday in a state with a largely insignificant presidential primary in April? A state where Obama bested McCain by 10 points? It might seem counterintuitive, but his visit highlights exactly how he hopes to win the Republican nomination. It’s consistent with his broader strategy of trying to convince GOP voters that he has the best chance of capitalizing on a weak economy and beating Barack Obama in a general election.
In coordination with the visit, Team Romney whipped up a web video spotlighting Allentown Metal Works, a now defunct factory that Obama visited in 2009. It flashes various dismal economic statistics over images of the closed manufacturing plant to illustrate his new Thatcher-esque (if less clever) mantra: “Obama isn’t working.” On the ground, Romney was every bit as focused. “The 2012 election is going to be a referendum on the President’s failure to turn around the economy,” Romney told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He’s grown detached and isolated from what people are feeling and experiencing.”
Mike Murphy is absolutely correct when he writes that the Bachmann boomlet has prompted “uncontrolled giggling” from Romney world. Their best-case scenario plays out like this: A Bachmann-like candidate wins Iowa, Romney places respectably and goes on to win New Hampshire. At that point, the mainstream freaks, rallies behind Romney, who’s more built for the general, and by the time polls close in Florida, the GOP primary is more or less over. There are plenty of ways this might not happen, but any similar path fundamentally relies on the perception that Romney is a steady, reliable bet for the general election and that he can bring his economy-heavy message and ample moneybags along with him.
So Pennsylvania, a large state with the kind of conservative, blue-collar Democrats a Republican candidate might be able to pick off in a weak economy, is a natural place for Romney to make that argument. (There are, of course, no guarantees that this is the general election situation Republicans will be facing. Despite the decline of manufacturing, Pennsylvania’s 7.4% unemployment rate is below the nationwide rate and it’s been decreasing steadily for six months.) “In my view, the Republican primary voters will soon begin to focus on electability rather than philosophy,” said Charles Kopp, chairman of Romney’s Pennsylvania campaign. “And when that happens, Mitt Romney will emerge as the party’s nominee with an excellent chance to become our next President.”