This is Philadelphia's 58th Ward: solid, brick twin houses; tidy, postage-stamp yards - and voters who are at least open to supporting John McCain.

If McCain is to beat Barack Obama in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, he'll need to cut into Obama's vote margin in the state's largest city. His best chance is in white, economically modest, retiree-filled wards such as the 58th, west of Roosevelt Boulevard in the Far Northeast.

Out of 66 wards, it is among 17 - mainly in the Northeast and South Philadelphia - where the GOP says it hopes to make inroads.

Democrats in recent months have gained ground in the 58th. They now outnumber Republicans there by a ratio of 2-1. But that's about as good it gets for the GOP in a city where, overall, it is outgunned, 6-1.

"McCain could do all right [in the 58th]. It's possible," said Gary Seifert, 70, a retired high school biology teacher who has lived in the same Bustleton twin for 33 years.

A Republican committeeman, Seifert has the Stars and Stripes on his porch and a McCain sign on his lawn. Two of his neighbors also have McCain signs.

The area went heavily for Hillary Rodham Clinton in the April Democratic primary. Seifert believes that demonstrated voter doubts about Obama - doubts that McCain has magnified.

"I'm interested to see if they're going to switch over to McCain because they're disgruntled," Seifert said. "It's possible they'll either vote for McCain or not vote at all."

The 58th is where many police officers and firefighters reside. Abutting Montgomery and Bucks Counties, it's far removed from the older rowhouse neighborhoods where many grew up.

Above Byberry Road lies the heart of leafy Somerton, a sort of suburb in the city. Patrol officers and sergeants, for instance, live in Bustleton; captains and inspectors live in Somerton.

Republican State Rep. George Kenney, not seeking reelection after 24 years, said McCain might carry the 58th Ward by a percentage point or two.

In 2004, John Kerry beat President Bush by 412,000 votes in the city, while winning by 144,000 statewide. Republicans say that if McCain can erode the Democratic margin by a thousand here, a thousand there - who knows what could happen?

In the 58th, Kerry won by 56 percent to 44 percent.

"I would have said that McCain would win easily, by 55-45," said Kenney, who is the GOP ward leader. "But I think there is a little reservation now about the ticket. I think the same issue - whether Obama is prepared to take over - is hurting [vice presidential nominee Sarah] Palin. There is some feeling that if something happens to McCain, is she prepared to lead?"

State Sen. Michael J. Stack, the Democratic ward leader, said the area was "perceived as the largest bastion of Republican strength in the city."

"But I think Obama will perform very well here," he said. "I think the economy transcends questions of race. McCain is trying to make people suspicious of Obama. I just don't think they are going to be able to carry the day against people's economic insecurity."

Weighing the accuracy of polls involving a black candidate, some in politics cite the "Bradley effect" - a reference to an African American mayor of Los Angeles who lost a battle for California governor in 1982 after leading in polls.

In the 58th Ward, older people remember 1987 and the Rizzo effect.

Former Mayor Frank L. Rizzo, seen as a white champion in some neighborhoods, was trying a comeback against the city's first black mayor, W. Wilson Goode. Rizzo was well behind in polls but came within an inch of beating Goode. Many voters apparently hadn't told pollsters they were backing Rizzo for fear of appearing racist.

Irena Avdyenko, 29, of Bustleton, who manages a produce market, made it clear that Obama's race is a factor in her decision.

"I mean, look at the crime we have now," she said while posting fruit prices on a sign board. "The people who get shot at, who shoot them, they are all black. . . . I think if we have a black president, they are going to think they own the world."

But Jerry Moliver, 74, a retired vending-company operator and 36-year Bustleton resident, said racial attitudes had softened since the '80s.

Most original residents of areas built in the '50s and '60s have died or moved on. A synagogue has become an Indian church. Whole sections have become home to Jews from the old Soviet Union.

A Democrat, Moliver said he'd reluctantly back Obama.

"I wish there were two other candidates. I don't like either of them," he said, downing an egg sandwich and coffee at a Dunkin' Donuts. "McCain weakened his position when he took on Palin, and Obama has no track record to draw on."

Igor Nisevich, 69, who emigrated from the former Soviet Union and became a citizen, said that, for him, taxes and Iraq trumped other issues. He said he believed Obama would lower his taxes and get America out of Iraq.

He said of McCain: "He's a good man. But, ah, I don't know . . ."

Contact staff writer Tom Infield
at 610-313-8205 or tinfield@phillynews.com.