Pennsylvania, here she comes

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President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton embrace on the third day of the Democratic National Convention at the Wells Fargo Center on July 27, 2016, in Philadelphia.

HILLARY RODHAM Clinton (or, if you're a Donald Trump fan, Hillary "Rotten" Clinton) is busing across Pennsylvania on Friday and Saturday, evidence that she sees the Keystone State as key to winning the White House.

She's not alone.

For months, and especially during the last two weeks, pundits, pols, and pollsters have been touting Pennsylvania as THE state to win.

In Cleveland last week, state Republican Party Chairman Rob Gleason said, "If you win Pennsylvania, you will be president of the United States."

Trump campaigned in Pennsylvania on Wednesday.

In Philadelphia this week, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said, "If she wins Pennsylvania, she wins the election."

She's campaigning here.

And national GOP pollster Frank Luntz (he's polled for the likes of Pat Buchanan and Newt Gingrich) tells me Pennsylvania is "the most important state in play."

So let's break it down.

On one hand, it's hard to see how Hillary loses the state.

She has family roots (her father was born in Scranton; she spent childhood vacations at a nearby lake). She won its 2008 primary, beating Barack Obama by nine points. There are 836,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans. And presumably Obama, Bill Clinton, and Joe Biden (all with higher favorable numbers than hers) will do get-out-the-vote efforts on her behalf.

For these and other reasons, Luntz, a Penn grad and former adjunct there who holds a doctorate in politics from Oxford, says Clinton is "more likely than Trump to win Pennsylvania . . . but this state is open to him."

Luntz's polling shows Clinton with a "small lead." He dismisses as "too large" a Suffolk University poll released Thursday showing Clinton up 9 points.

He argues, as do others, that the state vote is driven by economic issues, and says, "Whoever makes the stronger case to deliver long-term employment not short-term jobs will win."

But "open to" to Trump, eh?

When I ask if Trump can carry a state that hasn't gone GOP since '88, Luntz says it's "a possibility."

I think it's a real possibility.

This is the oddest presidential year in my lifetime. The angst and anger are unmatched. Disgust with establishment politics and politicians never has been more evident. Pennsylvania is much more than Philly and its 'burbs. The state never has elected a woman to high office.

And in a race with two flawed, polarizing candidates with low favorability, a race in which one is quintessentially establishment and the other is about as far outside politics as one can get, I think anything's possible.

How, for example, does Clinton fare as a change agent while also defending the eight-year Obama administration in which she served four years?

Longtime Pennsylvania pollster Terry Madonna, of the Franklin and Marshall College poll, notes the state's southeast, Philly and its collar counties, generally delivers 40 percent of the statewide vote. That's Clinton territory.

The southwest is different. In 2012, Mitt Romney, who lost the state by five points (without putting much effort in), carried every Democratic county around Allegheny County, some by very wide margins. This is Trump territory.

And, yes, Trump territory isn't as populous as Clinton's. And, yes, Republicans always claim Pennsylvania's "in play," only to lose the state.

But assuming, as I do, attacks from Trump and pro-Trump groups get nastier moving forward - and knowing negative ads so often work - how does Clinton maintain enthusiasm to get turnout needed to win if enough voters further sour on the process and just stay home?

And if that happens, whose supporters, Trump's or Clinton's, are more rabid, more likely to vote?

So, yo, Pennsylvania, yinz better buckle up.


baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer