SCRANTON, Pa. -- One month ago, with Republicans coming off a successful convention and infused by a burst of energy from the selection of Sarah Palin, Democrats looked to Pennsylvania with real concern. Among the states that John Kerry won in 2004, the Keystone State looked particularly vulnerable for a party that could not afford to cede any turf in its hopes to recapture the White House.
Fast-forward to Sunday, as Joe Biden shared a stage with both Bill and Hillary Clinton while a crowd of 6,000 hung on their every word. The three Democratic stalwarts each sounded optimistic about Democrats' chances, with Barack Obama surging in the polls nationwide and in Pennsylvania.
"If we can get a big vote out of Northeastern Pennsylvania for Barack and Joe, there isn't any way they lose Pennsylvania," Hillary Clinton told the crowd. "And if they win Pennsylvania, there's no way they lose the White House."
Just weeks ago, that result was certainly in doubt. An Allstate/National Journal poll taken in mid-September showed the Obama-Biden ticket with a lead of just 2 percentage points over John McCain and Palin. But the most recent Muhlenberg College tracking poll now shows Obama leading McCain by 13 points, 51-38.
"I think that Joe Biden and Barack Obama have now closed the deal," Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa., said in an interview before Sunday's rally. "They're starting to move ahead in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and I think that indicates that they'll carry the whole state, because we're really the bellwether area."
In the April 22 primary, this region voted nearly 3-to-1 for Clinton. With that in mind, Sunday's rally had initially been planned to shore up what might have been weak Democratic support for Obama; no better way to do that than to bring together Biden and Clinton, who each claim Scranton roots, and Bill Clinton, who remains popular in this working-class hub.
Instead, the event could arguably be seen as layering the icing on the cake. Kanjorski says that Democrats here indeed "have come home." "It took a little while for them to readjust," the 12-term incumbent said. "Certainly in the last four or five weeks, the turnaround is obvious."
The economic downturn has been a significant factor. But Biden has done his part, visiting the state six times, including three trips to the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre area alone. Dubbed Pennsylvania's "third senator," Biden often refers to his former home and invokes the lessons he learned on North Washington Avenue.
"In my neighborhood, where I grew up," he said just days before in Missouri, "we had a saying and we meant it and we mean it now. A promise made is a promise kept. Ladies and gentlemen, we will keep our promises."
The campaign will never say that it sees Pennsylvania as sure thing. Indeed, Obama was also stumping in the state this weekend, and Biden will likely be back. But the turnaround here represents one the campaign has seen in other marginal blue states, where doubts about Obama have been surpassed by doubts about the economy. And so the focus of Biden's efforts has shifted on to the red states of Missouri, Ohio, Florida and Virginia.
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