Two Republican super PACs are making a late play to try to crack Democratic-leaning Pennsylvania, spending a combined $3.2 million to air TV commercials across the state in support of Mitt Romney.
Restore Our Future, the pro-Romney super PAC run by former aides to the Republican nominee, is spending $2.1 million over the campaign's final week to attack President Obama in the state, including $1 million devoted to the expensive Philadelphia media market.
That's on top of $1.1 million in airtime purchased by Americans for Job Security, a conservative group that does not have to disclose its donors because it is organized under the tax code as a trade association.
The purchases come amid polls showing Obama's lead in Pennsylvania narrowing. They mark the first advertising presence for Romney or allied groups in months in a state that largely has been spared the nonstop barrage of campaign ads seen in the most competitive battleground states.
Obama's campaign promptly said it would counter the pro-Romney moves by putting up its own ads in Pennsylvania.
"We're not going to take anything for granted and make sure we're doing what we need to do on the ground," Obama campaign manager Jim Messina said Monday in a conference call with reporters. "They understand they're not going to be able to win Ohio, so now they're getting desperate."
Republicans argued that the last-minute push in Pennsylvania - which party leaders in the state had been urging for months - means that Romney's continued rise in polls has "expanded the map," or made more states competitive as next Tuesday's vote nears. Romney's campaign, for instance, recently bought a small amount of airtime in Minnesota, where recent polls have shown a tightening race. There, too, the Obama campaign responded with advertising of its own.
Rich Beeson, political director for Romney, said the Obama camp was engaged in "desperate and flailing spin in an attempt to explain why, suddenly, states that were never considered in play are up for grabs."
Republicans say that volunteers have made more than five million voter contacts in Pennsylvania, with phone calls and door knocks, many more than the party did four years ago or in 2004. In addition, party officials say registered Republicans have returned 63,717 absentee ballots in the state, to 42,013 turned in by Democrats.
The Obama campaign is casting the Pennsylvania ad foray as a sign of weakness in its opponent, arguing that the Romney forces are finding roadblocks in polling and early-vote totals in the short list of swing states they have been counting on to put together the 270 electoral votes needed for victory.
"They're essentially in a break-glass posture right now, trying to figure out how to put this thing together, given that fact that the current group of battleground states are not trending in their direction," said Obama's senior political strategist, David Axelrod, who was part of the conference call with Messina. "They're looking for a way out."
The Restore Our Future group already had spent about $4 million on Pennsylvania TV, but most of that was during the summer. And though the race has tightened in the Keystone State, Romney has not led in a public poll here since early February.
The most recent Inquirer Pennsylvania Poll, conducted last Tuesday through Thursday, found Obama leading in the state by six percentage points among likely voters, 49-43, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The paper's previous poll, conducted Oct. 4-8, had Obama's edge at 8 points. According to the website Real Clear Politics, which aggregates surveys, the president's average lead in recent Pennsylvania polls is 4.7 percentage points.
In a state-of-the-race memo, Bill Hyers, Pennsylvania director for the Obama campaign, contended that his organization has a more extensive and finely tuned "ground game" to turn out supporters in the state than does the Romney campaign. In addition, he wrote, Obama benefits from the large Democratic voter-registration advantage in the state.
"Over the last three months alone, 47,440 African Americans, 17,908 Latinos, 187,986 people under age 35, and 115,170 women have registered to vote in Pennsylvania - all groups among whom Obama leads Romney overwhelmingly," Hyers wrote.
The Pennsylvania ad purchase by Romney backers pales in comparison to the size of the action in states that have been contested ground for months. In Ohio, for instance, the Obama campaign and its allies spent $8.1 million on ads from Oct. 22 through Monday, while Romney and his allies bought $10.7 million worth of airtime during the same period, according to the National Journal.
During that same period in Ohio, the journal said, Americans for Job Security alone spent twice what it has budgeted for Pennsylvania.
By Monday evening, the Alexandria, Va., group's ad attacking Obama's record was airing during breaks in local TV news coverage of the massive storm Sandy. The ad features a young mother, jogging as she pushes her baby in a stroller. She tells of having voted for Obama in 2008, only to realize that " 'hope and change' was just a slogan. . . . The future is getting worse under Obama."
Charlie Gerow, a GOP consultant in Harrisburg, knows that Pennsylvania has trended blue, voting for the Democratic nominee in the last five presidential elections, but he believes the state can become competitive, especially with the late push.
"There is a real possibility that the national margin for Romney is going to be much wider than people are thinking," Gerow said in an interview, "and Pennsylvania could get carried along in the sweep."