Stakes high in Pennsylvania

The typical Pennsylvania battle is over where to get the best Philly cheesesteak: at "Pat’s" or across the street at "Geno’s."  But it's an election year and the Presidential stakes couldn’t be any higher.

Pennsylvania is a huge prize in the presidential sweepstakes with 21 electoral votes, more than any other battleground state except Florida.

It is the war in Iraq that is suddenly central to the election here.  For the first time, a majority of Pennsylvanians— 51 percent in a recent poll— believe that the war was wrong. 

“This is the first time in my life I have ever taken an active role in politics,” said Jonathan Stoltz, Army Reservist said.  “The war in Iraq has drastically affected me and my outlook.”

After Philadelphia businessman Nick Berg was beheaded, local soldiers were implicated in the prison abuse scandal, and the state lost its first National Guardsmen since World War II, people's opinions are beginning to change.

People still strongly support Bush and his decisions.  “No one likes what is happening in Iraq today, but no body has a better idea,” says Republican Senator Arlen Spector.  “It is easy to criticize, but I think the American people have a lot of confidence in President Bush’s leadership.”

Four Pennsylvanian counties could potentially decide the election.  Republicans dominate in Bucks, Chester, Montgomery and Delaware counties, but Bush lost three of them in 2003, costing him the state.

“It is not a state anyone can take for granted,” Rep. Chaka Fattah (D) said.

Attempting to bounce back from the loss, the Bush campaign has already made 60,000 phone calls, recruited 34,000 volunteers, and organized every imaginable special interest group including hunters, small businessmen, women, and veterans.

Democrats are just as determined, organizing the “Kerry for President” campaign earlier in Pennsylvania than any previous Democrat.  Democrats believe the economy will be a critical issue in a state where 156,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost.

“Unfortunately for the Bush campaign and unfortunately for us, the jobs that are being created are not nearly as good as the jobs that were lost,” Governor Ed Rendell (D) said.

To win, John Kerry will need a big margin of victory in the cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. This is probably another reason why he made the much-anticipated announcement of John Edwards as his running mate in Pittsburgh.

There is also a wildcard:  In a city where the name "Heinz" is featured on building after building, some analysts believe that John Kerry’s wife, Theresa Heinz Kerry, could help at the margins.

Chris Jansing has traveled all over Battleground America in the past couple of months to talk to undecided Americans in big cities and little towns, and to look at the grassroots efforts being conducted there. "Battleground America: Winning the White House" airs July 25, Sunday, 10 p.m. ET on MSNBC.