Mitt Romney’s Keystone State
The front-runner looks for a knock-out punch in Pennsylvania.

Mitt Romney speaks at a campaign event in Harrisburg, Pa., April 5, 2012.


Robert Costa

Pennsylvania may be Rick Santorum’s home state, but its demographics, especially in the more populous suburbs, suit Mitt Romney. In the “collar counties” around Philadelphia — Bucks, Delaware, and Montgomery — Republican voters tend to support mild-mannered conservatives who are focused on economic and fiscal issues.

Three Republican congressmen with flinty, independent personalities — Mike Fitzpatrick, Pat Meehan, and Jim Gerlach — represent districts in this critical slice of the Keystone State. While Santorum has the support of a few House members elsewhere in Pennsylvania, Romney’s identification with this southeastern trio, in terms of his politics and sensibility, will be a bigger factor.

During the 2010 midterms, over 300,000 Republicans voted in the aforementioned three counties. In the scattered bucolic outposts that constitute Santorum Country, it was not unusual to see GOP turnout hover around 15,000 per county. Greater Pittsburgh saw over 200,000 Republicans show up, but even that metropolitan area was dwarfed by the Philadelphia suburbs, which remain the principal battleground.

Knowing the numbers, it’s no surprise that on Wednesday, a day after sweeping three primaries, Romney held a rally at the Iron Shop in Broomall, Pa., in Delaware County. Throughout the campaign, Romney has used small businesses near urban centers as a backdrop and the vote-rich suburbs to boost his statewide totals.

In recent months, Santorum, who touts his candidacy as the blue-collar alternative to Romney, has dominated the more rural stretches of the industrial Rust Belt. But in Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio, Romney found a path to victory by outperforming Santorum among well-educated, middle-to-upper-income voters.

In Pennsylvania, which will hold its primary on April 24, look for Romney to continue his suburban strategy. Santorum, who hails from western Pennsylvania, may be able to sweep the deep-red swaths in the central and southwestern parts of the state, but if Romney can put up solid numbers in the northeast near Scranton, in select pockets near Harrisburg and Pittsburgh, and around Philadelphia, he’ll probably win.

Four years ago, the GOP presidential primary was effectively over by late April, when Pennsylvanians went to the polls. Senator John McCain of Arizona was the presumptive nominee, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee had conceded, and Representative Ron Paul of Texas had officially “wound down” his campaign.

But in certain counties, Mike Huckabee, whose insurgent campaign resembles Santorum’s bid, collected more than 10 percent of the vote. In the southwestern, rural counties — Bedford, Somerset, and Fayette — he won strong support from evangelicals, many of whom were unhappy with McCain’s ascendance. These counties, along with Butler, where Santorum grew up, form the senator’s base. But they’re hardly a majority.

Pennsylvania’s conservative movement, for the most part, is not based on evangelical activism but on anti-government anger. Its most notable achievements have been a select few tea-party challenges, mostly on the state-senate level, directed at Harrisburg’s pork barons. The pro-life cause, though very influential, is not at the heart of its efforts.