Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pennsylvania Paradox

Building upon Prof. CBMurray’s post, Philly’s bellwether suburban Montgomery County sits at the heart of this year’s Pennsylvania Paradox, where the Democratic presidential primary finds Keystone political players and their traditional constituencies all mixed up. Lining up behind Hillary Clinton is Gov. Ed Rendell, the Upper West Side-born socially liberal Jewish former Philly mayor with a history of battling public employee unions. Barack Obama’s most prominent surrogate is Sen. Robert Casey, Jr., the pro-gun, pro-life Catholic Democrat; a union stalwart and a scion of Scranton.

Rendell lost the 1986 Democratic gubernatorial primary to Casey’s father, the late Robert Casey, Sr., but defeated Casey, Jr. for the same nod in 2002. ( would be remiss if we failed to note that a Clinton-Casey clan rivalry dates back to 1992 when nominee Bill Clinton refused a Democratic convention speaking slot to Casey, Sr. to air his anti-abortion views, despite a long history of both families sharing the services of consultants Paul Begala and James Carville.) Rendell won that contest by racking up huge majorities in the affluent, socially liberal suburban counties that ring his Philly base. Rendell beat Casey, Jr. by 13 points, but won only 11 of the Keystone State’s 67 counties.

Casey, Jr. even mustered over 20% in the city of Philadelphia, where pro-union, pro-life urban ethnic Catholic Democrats are not yet extinct. But in Montgomery County, home of the tony “Main Line” towns that were once the heart of WASPy liberal Republicans, Rendell trounced Casey, Jr. 88%-12%, and racked up margins nearly as lopsided in surrounding Bucks, Delaware and Chester counties.

Despite Rendell’s indefatigable barnstorming for HRC this year, given Obama’s strength among college educated, affluent social liberals this primary season, the post-primary map is likely to resemble that 2002 Rendell-Casey, Jr. map, but with Casey-endorsed Obama winning Rendell territory and HRC romping away in Casey Country: Pittsburgh, Coal Country and Appalachian “Pennsyltucky,” her traditional down-scale, union-heavy base this cycle.

2002 Pennsylvania County Map of Democratic Primary Election Results for Governor

Montgomery County leads these trends. In fact, Montgomery was the only county that Casey père couldn’t carry in his landslide 1990 reelection. The Main Line forsook the pro-life Democrat of working class roots for Barbara Hafer, the liberal Republican state auditor and a vociferous advocate of abortion rights. (Despite hailing from suburban Pittsburgh, Hafer’s career reflects Montgomery’s political evolution: she switched parties in 2003 and her daughter is vying for the Dem nod to challenge freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (PA18).

County Map

And after voting for him in ’94 and 2000 (against pro-life Pittsburgh-area fmr. U.S. Rep. Ron Klink), Montgomery County lost patience with trade-bashing, gay-baiting Sen. Rick Santorum, favoring none other than Bob Casey, Jr. against him, 62-38%, surpassing Casey’s statewide margin.

This evolving partisanship is marked by stunning shifts in party registration totals, which might give Obama a fighting chance to pull off an upset. advisor Bill Boyle pointed us to this graphic, illustrating the steep drop-off in those suburban Philly counties in Republican and independent registrations coupled by even sharper gains for Democrats. A reporter friend who spent time on the ground in Pennsylvania’s hotly contested 2004 Republican Senate primary recounted how, to narrowly fend off a challenge for renomination from then-U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey, Sen. Arlen Specter scrambled to re-register Philly ‘burb voters who had switched parties to vote for Rendell in ’02, suggesting that the graphic might be even more dramatic had Specter not needed to undertake that effort.

Hillary’s saving grace may be Montgomery’s heavily Jewish precincts, which have turned out historically for both Republicans (Specter, fmr. U.S. Rep. Jon Fox) and Democrats (U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, fmr. U.S. Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky) with ties to the Jewish community. The test will be whether Jewish voters who favored Hillary Clinton in Florida (note her margins in CDs 19, 20 & 22), New York (see Riverdale’s Assembly District 81) and Maryland (see precincts in Pikesville, B’more Co.) will do so in enough numbers here to tamp down Obama’s expected margin of victory, neutralizing Obama’s Rendell 2002-inspired strategy.

1 comment:

rayapati said...

Pennsylvania Paradox, where the Democratic presidential primary finds Keystone political players and their traditional constituencies all mixed up.

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