Ardmore, Pennsylvania: Mitt Romney was unequivocal this week about the importance of Pennsylvania in the November presidential election. "We need to make sure we win Pennsylvania," he told a packed dinner in the Republican stronghold of Lancaster in the central part of the Keystone state. "If we win Pennsylvania, we'll take back the White House."
With the withdrawal from the race of Rick Santorum, the state's former senator, Mr Romney is highly likely to win the Pennsylvania primary on Tuesday as he moves another step closer to his expected confirmation as the GOP's presidentialcandidate at its national convention in August.
But he will have to work hard to win swing states such as Pennsylvania " which President Barack Obama won by 11 points in 2008 " in the presidential election.
Most of the rural areas of the state are expected to vote Republican and the big cities, such as Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Democrat.
That makes areas such as the Philadelphia suburbs crucial. These are what Dante Chinni, the political analyst who describes the US as a "patchwork nation" of voting communities, calls the "monied burbs": highly educated communities with a median household income $15,000 above the national county average. They also include places such as Arlington near Washington DC and around Cleveland, Ohio.
Democrats won the "monied burbs" in the past three presidential elections, with Mr Obama taking them by 12 points in 2008. The well-off, well-educated constituents of the monied burbs had dismissed former President George W. Bush as an intellectual lightweight and thought John McCain did not have an economic policy, Mr Chinni says. The Republican party needs to do better here this time round if its candidate " almost certain to be the wealthy, educated Mr Romney " is to win.
"The GOP can win an election without the monied burbs, but it can't become unpalatable to them," Mr Chinni says. "And Romney is beginning to become unpalatable to them," he adds, saying the front-runner's pandering to the right on issues such as climate change and access to contraception will not help him withmoderate swing voters.
Rogers Smith, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, says places such as Ardmore should be a natural constituency for Mr Romney. "This would be a great place for the Mitt Romney who ran for governor of Massachusetts. He would have a lot of appeal to the educated professionals there," he says. "But the Mitt Romney, who has been running in the presidential primaries, is not likely to make major inroads against Barack Obama because of his embrace of social conservative issues."
Indeed, many residents of Ardmore, an upmarket suburb outside Philadelphia where residents park their Volvos outside the chi chi farmer's market, profess their strong preference for the president.
"Republicans don't care about poor people or the middle class," says Michael Yurkovich, who owns a shop in Ardmore's aptly named "Suburban Square" area. "I just don't trust Romney " he's a guy who doesn't know what it's like to work for a living."
But James, an investment adviser from nearby Wayne who did not give his surname, says there are plenty of reasons to vote for the Republican. "I like him because he's about small government; he's more pro-business; he wants to control the deficit more than Obama and he wants to keep taxes down," he says, looking every inch a financier in his blue blazer and pink tie. As for the president: "I don't like his redistributive ideas as far as wealth is concerned."
Despite warm sentiments from people such as Mr Yurkovich, there is reason to believe residents of Ardmore and other suburbs like it will not be as responsive to Mr Obama this year.
Given the magnitude by which the president took Pennsylvania last time round, analysts say it is remarkable he is not faring better. The latest poll from Quinnipiac University gives Mr Obama a thin edge over Mr Romney in the state, leading 45 to 42 per cent.
The residents of suburbs like this are less moved about unemployment than the electorate as a whole and might be affronted by Mr Obama's arguments about fairness, such as efforts to make millionaires pay higher taxes.
They are also interested in fiscal rectitude and the presumptive Republican nominee does better on that score than the president, says Bill Galston, a former Clinton administration official now at the Brookings Institution: "Not because Romney has a plan but because Obama has a track record."
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2012
Posted on www.ft.com on April 18, 2012 7:46 pm