Republicans haven’t won Pennsylvania since the 1988 election.  Democrats can’t win the White House without it.  Most people assume that Barack Obama will ride a huge popular-vote margin in Philadelphia to a Keystone State victory in November.  Two different media outlets working on analyses of different trends think the state may be in play for Mitt Romney, however, which would put Obama’s re-election chances in grave peril.

CBS’ Brian Montopoli writes that Obama can’t count on a winning margin in Philadelphia being enough this time around:

President Obama won Pennsylvania by more than 620,000 votes in the 2008 election, largely on the strength of his performance in and around Philadelphia: He won Philadelphia County by nearly 480,000 votes and the surrounding swing areas by roughly another 200,000 votes. His performance in the region, which holds about 40 percent of the state population, made what happened in the rest of the state close to irrelevant.

Yet after nearly four years in office, there are big questions over whether Mr. Obama can even come close to repeating that performance. It appears unlikely that African-Americans and young voters, who powered Mr. Obama’s big margins in 2008, will come out in the same numbers that they did last time around; a Pew Research Center last month found that, nationally, 60 percent of younger voters are giving a lot of thought to the election, a drop from 71 percent in 2008. A drop in voter enthusiasm in places like Philadelphia County – which is 44 percent African-American – puts the state’s 20 electoral votes very much in play.

The problem for Obama in 2012 is very much the same as it was in the 2008 Democratic primary, which Obama himself diagnosed as people who bitterly cling to their guns and Bibles:

Mr. Obama wasn’t supposed to lose Beaver and the counties around it, steel-industry strongholds full of working-class, unionized white voters who have long leaned Democratic. Yet he alienated many in the 2008 cycle when it was revealed he had claimed that working-class voters in Pennsylvania “cling to guns or religion” as a result of economic hardship. The comment prompted one man at an Obama rally in Beaver to show up with a fully-loaded gun prominently displayed in a holster.

“The social values of Democrats in western Pennsylvania tend to be different than the social values back east,” said Delano. “They tend to be conservative. We like our guns very much – we love our guns. We grew up hunting. Some tend to be Bible thumpers. And candidate Obama was dissing people for their religion and their guns.”

They do tend toward populism on fiscal matters, though, which gives Obama an opening.  However, that might not be enough, since four years of Obama’s populism has hardly improved lives in Pennsylvania.  A jump in the nominal jobless rate might doom Obama for good among those voters, National Journal’s Beth Reinhard reports:

Just six weeks ago, conventional wisdom was that Pennsylvania was off the table. Mitt Romney’s campaign didn’t list it as a top target, and his state chairman said the GOP nominee himself was skeptical he could win there. A Republican nominee hasn’t won the state since 1988 and it didn’t look like 2012 would be any different.

Today the picture does look different. The Rust Belt has been getting a lot of attention from both campaigns as they court white, blue-collar voters. Romney is holding a rally in Irwin, PA, Tuesday afternoon, and President Obama’s campaign announced it is running a tough new anti-Romney ad exclusively in the state. Pro-Romney super PACs are also spending money there.

What gives? Well for one thing, unemployment in the state rose in June to 7.6 percent from 7.4 percent.

Team Romney sent Rick Santorum out to woo voters in the western part of the state, a natural fit for the erstwhile contender, as well as an opportunity to apply some influence on Romney’s messaging. If Santorum can help deliver a win for Romney, his stock in the GOP will soar — and put him solidly in place for a Cabinet post in a Romney administration, if not a chance to run for the top spot again down the road.

It might not take a win in Pennsylvania to boost Romney’s chances, either.  Obama won the state by eleven points in 2008, and until now the fight with Romney didn’t look to be much of a challenge in the state.  If Obama has to fight it out with Romney to hold a state he took by better than his national popular vote margin, it will force Team Obama to spend resources that might otherwise go to swing states like Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and even Wisconsin and Iowa, which already seem more competitive than Pennsylvania.

I’d still consider a win in Pennsylvania a long shot for Romney, but a tantalizing target.  I’d expect to see a bigger push there than what Team Romney hinted earlier this spring.