The senior Pennsylvania Republican officials who huddled in the cold here awaiting Romney’s arrival could best be described as cautiously optimistic, more than than they ever have been. Even those who had long been skeptical of Romney’s prospects here insist there’s a bubbling excitement on the ground that hasn’t registered in polls showing Obama holding a modest but steady lead.

“There’s a feeling here, a mood across Pennsylvania that I’ve never seen before,” said Republican National Committeewoman Christine Toretti, who along with powerful committeeman Bob Asher and state party chairman Rob Gleason had been lobbying Romney’s campaign to make a bigger play here.

Warming up the crowd, Gov. Tom Corbett declared: “Pennsylvania is in play!” But even Republicans hopeful for an Election Day surprise in Pennsylvania acknowledge the narrow path for Romney to prevail. He needs to hope that Obama’s winning margin in the Democratic stronghold of Philadelphia is held far below its 2008 level, while fighting to something close to a draw in the population-rich Philadelphia suburbs, which have trended increasingly Democratic over the last decade…

“If the whole things collapses to a turnout model like 2004 or 2010, then it’s collapsing everywhere else,” Oxman said. “If [Obama] loses Pennsylvania, he’s like Jimmy Carter losing every state.”