Baer: Is Pa. still in play for the presidency?

Remember when Pennsylvania was the It state?

Trump had to have it. Hillary had to have it. It was, said so many, critical and possibly (to borrow from George W. Bush) "the decider."

That was in May, June, even July. But now?

I'd offer some observations.

On Sunday, Donald Trump's most current campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said on ABC's This Week that Trump doesn't need Pennsylvania to win.

On Monday, Labor Day, Trump and Clinton were in Ohio, not Pennsylvania.

On Tuesday, political writer Thomas Fitzgerald reported on a new killer TV ad titled "I Love War" (Trump's own words) from a pro-Clinton super PAC. The ad is to run in five states in which the race is tightest: Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio - in other words, not Pennsylvania.

The latest CBS News poll has Clinton up eight points in the state, 45-37. The average of four Pennsylvania polls released during the last two weeks has Clinton ahead by 6.5 points, according to RealClearPolitics.

And national pundits Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia and Stuart Rothenberg of the Rothenberg and Gonzales Political Report rate Pennsylvania as "likely" and "leans" Democratic, respectively.

So is the state still in play?

"I don't think either side can win without Pennsylvania," says Democratic state party chief Marcel Groen. "We think we're in good shape, but we can't take it for granted."

Election Day's still two months off. Events and missteps happen. Debates lie ahead. And this political cycle is, shall we say, less predictable than cycles past.

Plus, there's evidence that Clinton's camp thinks the state's still in play.

Surrogates Vice President Biden and former President Bill Clinton were in over the holiday weekend, as was Hillary Clinton's running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine.

Chelsea Clinton is scheduled in central Pennsylvania on Wednesday. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Bill Clinton are in the state Friday, she in Philly, he in Pittsburgh. And President Obama is to be in Philly next week.

This is because Clinton has more high-profile surrogates than Trump to push for new voter registrations and high turnout in a state with more D's than R's.

Or because a Washington Post survey updated last week had Clinton up just four points here.

And/or because Clinton wants a big win so Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Katie McGinty can tailgate on a large margin to help retake the Senate from Republicans. GOP Sen. Pat Toomey remains among the nation's most vulnerable incumbents.

Yes, Trump has been in the state and is due back in Philly on Wednesday. But his visit is so far scheduled as an invitation-only event at the Union League, a speech on national security and veterans' issues, closed to the public.

Still, CNN contributor and Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord tells me that Pennsylvania remains "totally winnable" for The Donald.

How?

"It's just my gut," says Lord. "I think there's enthusiasm there for him that's not there for her."

He might be right, at least nationally.

National polling by CNN released Tuesday has Trump ahead of Clinton, 45-43, and shows the enthusiasm gap to which Lord refers.

Asked if they're more or less enthusiastic about voting in this election compared with past elections, 57 percent of registered Democrats said they are less enthusiastic; 40 percent of Republicans. Good news for Trump.

But the same poll suggests that a majority of voters - 59 percent - believe Clinton wins the Electoral College, and therefore the presidency. Just 34 percent say Trump wins.

And Pennsylvania? Clearly no longer the It state. At least not right now.

baerj@phillynews.com

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