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Why Pennsylvania No Longer Swings


Until 1980, conventional twentieth century political thinking postulated that four states pretty much decided national elections. Those states were Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Florida. These states were large, powerful, balanced between the two political parties, and always in play. They were swing states.

Last fall's election saw the advent of other states as swing states. Florida and Ohio hold over from the old list. Colorado, Missouri, Virginia, and North Carolina were added as crucial players in Barak Obama's victory.

What happened to Michigan and Pennsylvania?

Michigan dropped out as an important presidential decider because its engine of growth, the auto business, finally dug a hole so large it couldn't market its way out of at any cost.

Pennsylvania dropped out because it no longer swings. Pennsylvania has voted Democratic in the last five elections. That makes Pennsylvania a blue state.

How blue? A Democratic has not won the presidency without Pennsylvania since Truman beat Dewey in 1948.

How blue? Arlen Specter changed parties in order to win a nomination to keep his Senate seat. He knew the general election would be a cakewalk because of his reputation as a moderate; 50% of Pennsylvanians describe themselves as "moderate." This is a fact the 27% who call themselves "conservatives" don't want to think about-they have convinced themselves they are bigger and badder than they really are. But, what the hell, all bullies do that. Spector's no dummy, he knows the only place he had to face the crazies was in the Republican primary. So he'll skip it instead. And the Republicans will not get his seat. Neither will the Democrats.

How blue? Pennsylvania's electorate is 44% registered Democrats. That makes it one of the bluest of all the blue states. And those registered Democrats are loyal; 90% of them voted for Obama. Obama held onto 79% of the Democrats who voted for Hilary in the state primary. Independents voted for Obama as well 59% to 39% over McCain.

The old key to winning a state-wide race in Pennsylvania used to be to win the east (Philadelphia) and the west (Pittsburgh) and give up on the middle. The middle is "Alabama" according to Bill Clinton's campaign manager, James Carville.

But the east in PA has grown a lot bigger than just Philadelphia. Obama showed how to run up huge vote totals in the entire eastern half of the state and win the whole enchilada. Why is this? Because Pennsylvania looks more like the northeast than the midwest. Demographically, one half of the state's voters are college graduates. That puts Pennsylvania a lot closer to the education levels seen in neighbors New York, New Jersey, and Maryland than it does to its other neighbors Ohio and West Virginia.

In Pennsylvania, the Democrats have gotten it right. They field candidates that appeal to the broad part of the political spectrum, the very center. Those that are liberal have no where to go; that 23% of the electorate matches up nicely with the conservatives 27%. But the liberals are not going to cross the full political spectrum and vote with conservatives. Instead they add their numbers to the moderates 50% and that forms a potent machine to preclude any serious Republican, red state mischief.

Blue is blue.