Salena Zito
The Brighton Hot Dog Shoppe on Third Avenue is one of those places where men who want to be president stop to look decidedly un-presidential.

Al Gore visited the shop; so did John Kerry. President Barack Obama opted for ice cream instead and went to the Windmill, eight miles up the road.

“It is where you take them to make candidates look authentic,” explained a Democrat strategist who routinely works on presidential campaigns in the Keystone State.

After orchestrating three statewide presidential wins, the strategist said he is sitting out this cycle. He doesn’t see Obama winning Pennsylvania in 2012.

Life is different here in Beaver County: The bill for three chilidogs with “the works,” large fries and a large vanilla milkshake was just over $8. Outside, a steady stream of hunters, families and other locals lingered after the Thanksgiving holiday, enjoying the unseasonable warmth.

Beaver County has long been a stronghold for Democrats. Traditionally, everything along the rivers where industry used to boom is more Democrat; the farther you get from the rivers, the more conservative the voters – yet even the conservatives are registered to vote as Democrats.

Their preferences changed dramatically in 2008 when Republican John McCain beat Obama here. Until then, the last Republican presidential candidate to win the county was Richard Nixon.

That trend solidified when the much more conservative Pat Toomey, a Republican, beat former congressman Joe Sestak, a Democrat, for a U.S. Senate seat.

Hard to imagine that a Democrat could lose Pennsylvania in a presidential election, especially one who won it just three years ago by nearly 10 percentage points.

Never mind that Republicans swept the state in last year’s midterm election, taking a majority of U.S. House seats, a U.S. Senate seat, both chambers of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion – Pennsylvania is still 4 percent more “Democrat” than her Midwestern counterparts.

The latest survey from liberal-leaning Public Policy Polling showed 59 percent of white voters in Pennsylvania disapprove of Obama’s job performance, a rate usually found among Southern voters.

Sean Trende, a numbers analyst for RealClearPolitics, said that while the president could write off Pennsylvania and win, it would be difficult. “The key would be holding the Bush states he won in the Mountain West – Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico, plus Virginia and North Carolina,” he said.

That electoral-college path gives him 280 electoral votes and assumes he will lose Indiana and Ohio, which he almost certainly would if he loses Pennsylvania.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.