By Tom Curry National affairs writer
updated 9/3/2004 12:02:40 PM ET 2004-09-03T16:02:40

With the Republican Convention all over, and the delegates flying back home, GOP activists from two battleground states, Pennsylvania and Colorado, are voicing confidence that President Bush will carry both of them.

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Pennsylvania and Colorado are curious mirror-images of each other.

The first is a Democratic-leaning, slow-growing Rust Belt state with the second highest percentage of people over age 65, and a state with large electoral clout (21 electoral votes).

The second is a Republican-leaning, high-growth state full of hikers, skiers, and military veterans. Despite its population growth over past decade Colorado still has only nine electoral votes.

Bush underscored Pennsylvania’s significance Tuesday by campaigning in Carlisle, Pa. and again Thursday night by flying directly from the convention here in New York to Scranton, Pa. for more campaigning.

Genuine battleground or illusion?
But are Pennsylvania and Colorado really battleground states? Does Bush have a more-than-illusory chance to carry Pennsylvania, which hasn’t gone Republican in a presidential election since 1988?

And does Democrat John Kerry have a real shot of taking Colorado, which has not gone Democratic since Bill Clinton won it in the three-way Perot-Clinton-Bush race in 1992?

Pennsylvania political analyst Terry Madonna, who regularly polls the state’s voters for Franklin & Marshall College and knows Pennsylvania’s political persona as well as anyone, said that Republican strategists may be hoping that Bush will successfully lure the Democrats into spending money and investing Kerry’s personal time in the state, even if in the end Kerry is likely to win it.

Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman insisted here at the GOP convention this week that the state is up for grabs.

“The ultimate test of a campaign’s seriousness in a state is its deployment of resources to win the state,” Mehlman told “We’re deploying tremendous resources to win Pennsylvania. There’s already evidence we’re in a better position today than we were in 2000. In 2000, (Bush support in) Pennsylvania was five points less than the national average — today it’s right around the national average. Polls show the race to be very tight.”

A Gallup poll of 729 Pennsylvania likely voters conducted Aug. 23-26 showed a 47 percent-to-47 percent tie between Bush and Kerry. And last week’s NBC News/Wall Street Journal national survey showed a statistical tie: Bush 45, Kerry 44.

Four decisive counties
Madonna said Bush needs to win the decisive four counties outside Philadelphia (Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware, Chester) by a cumulative margin of eight to ten percentage points in order to win Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia, a bastion of labor union, ideologically liberal and African-American voters, is Kerry’s vote cushion.

“Kerry will net (a margin of) 350,000 or better” in Philadelphia, Rep. Chaka Fattah, D- Pa. said last month.

Al Gore’s statewide margin of victory in 2000 was more than 204,000 votes.

But Bush “is in the hunt, he’s in a pretty good position right now,” said Republican Rep. Jim Gerlach, who represents a suburban district outside Philadelphia that includes parts of Montgomery and Chester counties.

“Pennsylvania is in play because of the strength of the president’s policies, but also because he’s visiting the state quite a bit," Gerlach said. "The economy is going really well in our part of Pennsylvania. Chester County has 3 percent unemployment, it’s 3.5 in Montgomery County…. We have a growing pharmaceutical-biotech-biomed industry. So things are chugging along economically in southeast Pennsylvania in the suburban counties.”

Renee Amoore, the head of Pennsylvania’s delegation to the national convention and an entrepreneur who lives in King of Prussia, Pa., in Montgomery County, said the difference between this year and 2000 is Bush’s personal investment of time in the state and in her county.

“He’s been there it seems like every other week. But he’s also doing such a different outreach by putting different messengers out…. We’re finally putting out the right messengers so people have relationships with those folks in the community already and those folks come with credibility carrying the president’s message. What we’ve done first to get more people of color at this convention and I am elated.”

Even in heavily Democratic Philadelphia, GOP ward leaders are making extraordinary efforts to register new voters and contact old ones.

Registration deadline
West Philadelphia ward leader Matthew Wolfe, who was in New York attending the convention, pointed out that the deadline for registering new voters in Pennsylvania is only 30 days away, Oct. 4. “That’s really a big day for us,” he said.

Mehlman stressed this point, too, in a pep talk to the Pennsylvania, Maryland and Alabama delegations Wednesday morning. “There’s about 30 days left in most states to register voters,” he said. “Every single person should leave this convention and in the next 30 days find ten new people who are George W. Bush supporters, register them to vote, and make sure they are ready to show up on Election Day.”

In Philadelphia, Wolfe said, “we’re light years ahead of where we were four years ago in terms of building a grass-roots operation to turn people out” to vote.

He added that GOP operatives will keep a close eye on potential double voting in the city: where a voter is registered in two different precincts (he may have moved from west Philadelphia to another part of the city).

If a ward leader knows that a registered voter won’t show up in his former precinct, he could have someone else impersonate him and cast a vote. “We’re going to have to do what we can to combat the vote fraud in Philadelphia,” Wolfe said.

Kerry's play for Colorado
Meanwhile, in Colorado, Kerry needs to overcome what was a 145,000-vote margin amassed by Bush four years ago.

Given that margin and the fact that GOP Gov. Bill Owens and Sen. Wayne Allard have won four elections in the state since 1996, it is far from certain that Colorado will truly be a battleground state come mid-October, when the candidates must make the painful choice on where to focus their homestretch efforts.

“If it’s a battleground, the Kerry people have made it a battleground,” Colorado Republican chairman Ted Halaby said Thursday. In January the Bush-Cheney campaign strategists didn’t consider it one, Halaby said. What changed the situation was the Kerry campaign’s $1 million media buy in the state in May.

While Republicans in Philadelphia may be worried abut potential vote fraud, in Colorado GOP activists are worried about an electoral vote gambit that may cost Bush dearly.

Kerry may get a lift from the Democratic-supported state initiative on the Nov. 2 ballot that would split the state’s nine electoral votes to reflect the popular vote in the state, instead of the current winner-take-all system.

The ballot initiative forces the Republicans to play defense. “We have to assume the effort to defeat the initiative is at least to some degree diverting funds that otherwise would have gone to candidates,” Halaby said. “It forces us to divert attention and funds.”

But the Colorado GOP is arming for battle with what Halaby called it “96-hour plan” — an enhancement of the Republican National Committee’s 72-hour Task Force, a final election eve phone-banking, door-to-door and poll-checking crusade to make sure every Republican who can vote, does so.

“We had over a thousand volunteers two years ago, right now we’re over 4,000,” Halaby said. “Talk to (2002 candidates) Wayne Allard and (Rep.) Bob Beauprez and they both credit this effort as being key to their victories.” Beauprez won his 2002 House race by only 121 votes.

Owens said Bush is a better cultural fit for Colorado than Kerry is: “Colorado is a conservative state fiscally and it is an upwardly mobile state. We’re not a declining, old industrial state.”

As a candidate in Colorado, Owens said, “you have to be optimistic and you have to a bit of western spirit. I think that George Bush will fit that model much more than John Kerry does.”

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