When Mitt Romney's bus tour pulls into Pennsylvania on Saturday, it will be entering a state no Republican candidate has won since George H.W. Bush in 1988. John McCain lost the state to Barack Obama by more than 10 points in 2008, and with 1 million more voters registered Democrat than Republican, it should be enemy territory for the Romney team.
But Romney will make three stops there on Saturday and this time the GOP thinks it can take the state and its 20 electoral votes. The presumptive nominee is sounding confident, telling a Philadelphia radio station this week, "We see Pennsylvania very much as being in play."
"We're very early in the process," Romney said, somewhat hedging his bet. "People in Pennsylvania recognize that if we're gonna get good manufacturing jobs back and a better future for the middle class, we're gonna have to have a president that understands how the economy works, we're gonna have to have a president that will take advantage of the oil and the coal and the natural gas which is plentiful in Pennsylvania."
The polls show it will still be an uphill battle, but Republicans see encouragement in those numbers.
A Quinnipiac poll released this week showed President Obama ahead in the Keystone State by six points, 46% to 40%. That's a statistical dead heat to the May Quinnipiac poll when Obama had an eight-point lead, 47% to 39%.
That's raising spirits in the GOP. So is this number: Voters in the state said Romney would do a better job on the economy, 49% to Obama's 41%. The same poll revealed 45 percent think Romney would create more jobs; 43% picked Obama on that question. Romney leads on handling the economy and job creation with independent voters, probably the best sign for Republicans in the poll.
The chairman of the Pennsylvania GOP, Rob Gleason, said it will be a "dog fight" in the state, adding, "We're very positive we are going to be able to win Pennsylvania."
However, just last month Gleason told Colby Itkowitz from the Allentown Morning Call that when Romney was in Harrisburg for a fundraiser, Gleason told him they would win Pennsylvania and Romney responded, "Really?"
"I don't think anyone thinks we can carry Pennsylvania, I don't think even Romney thinks we can win Pennsylvania; they're not counting on it, but they'll play here," Gleason told the Morning Call. "We're not asleep at the switch. We've been working on this for four years. This is the big one."
When asked about the change in attitude, Gleason stressed he always thought the Republicans could win the state.
Pennsylvania is not on the Republican Party's path-to-270 road map, but a win in the state would allow them to lose another tight battleground state. The last time Romney was in Pennsylvania was in May where he did not receive the warmest of welcomes in Philadelphia. Before that he campaigned in the state with running mate contender Marco Rubio. Another possible Veepstakes "audition" will take place this weekend when Tim Pawlenty boards the bus to stump with Romney in New Hampshire on Friday and Pennsylvania on Saturday.