Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Keystone State Tour--Stop 3

Our next stop on the Pennsylvania tour is Montgomery county. For those familiar with the Philadelphia area, this is the “main line” communities that extend westward from the city. Once the retreat of old money industrialists and financiers, Montgomery county has become much more politically competitive. A large county with over 750,000 residents, there are a lot of votes to be had. Thus, a concentrated effort can reap big rewards. While it used to be solid Republican country, and still elects a large number of Republicans, Montgomery county gave John Kerry 56% in 2004. To give you a sense of this change both Gore and Clinton won the county (54%, 49%, 43%) following several cycles of Republican dominance (Bush ’88-60%; Reagan ’84—64%; Reagan ’80—58%; Ford ’76—57%).

Due to some pretty dramatic gerrymandering, the county is shared by a number of congressional districts, but the two major officeholders are congressmen Joe Sestak (D) and Jim Gerlach (R). An indication of the area’s changing politics, Sestak unseated longtime Republican incumbent Curt Weldon in 2006. Although certainly helped by Weldon’s ethical indiscretions, Sestak victory highlights how competitive the area has become. This tightness is further evidenced by Gerlach’s close encounters over the past few election cycles. In his past three races, Gerlach has received 51%, 51%, and 50.7% respectively, and has managed to survive as a result of his long service to the district (12 years in the state legislature) and moderate voting record.

Looking to next week’s primary, one would think that if Obama is going to keep the race close he’s going to need to do very well here. The county fits very much into the profile of areas he’s been doing well in. It’s more upscale and has a large university population with schools like Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Vilanova all in the area.

However, Clinton backer and consummate Pennsylvania pol Governor Ed Rendell is strong in the area. He received 72% in the county in 2006 and you can bet he’s not going to let Obama have an easy win in his back yard. Congressman Sestak has also endorsed Clinton. Watch this county closely next week.

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