Real Clear Politics Swing State Review: Pennsylvania

2008, 2008 Presidential Campaign, Pennsylvania

The next post in Real Clear Politics series on key swing states examines Pennsylvania, which has voted Democratic since 1992, but has been listed by both the Obama and McCain campaigns as a potential swing state in this election.

what McCain must do to flip Pennsylvania from blue to red. There are four areas he should focus on:

(1) Metropolitan Philadelphia. George W. Bush’s numbers in metro Philly were not great in 2004. Statewide, Bush’s vote share ticked up 2 points between 2000 and 2004, from 46.4 to 48.4. In the suburban counties surrounding Philadelphia, it barely inched up, from 46.7% to 47.0%. If McCain can improve on Bush’s share in the suburban counties, he will be better positioned to win the state. He would not have to do much better – a shift of just 2 points in the suburban counties would close more than a third of Bush’s statewide deficit. This is not an impossible feat. Obama’s campaign should not presume that metro Philly is a lock, at least not in the numbers he will need. Republicans who have won statewide offices have greatly outperformed Bush here, so McCain could improve on Bush.

(2) The Lehigh Valley. This is in Lehigh, Northampton, and Carbon counties. Formerly a center of American manufacturing, the economy has recently been invigorated by the tech and service industries. With this revitalization has come an increase in population. Bush was basically stagnant in this region between 2000 and 2004. He lost all three counties by slim margins in 2000. In 2004, he won Carbon County barely, and ticked up a bit in the more populous Lehigh and Northampton Counties, still losing both. This is an area McCain cannot afford to ignore: Republicans who have won close statewide races in recent years have won the Lehigh Valley.

(3) York and Lancaster Counties. York and Lancaster are in the southeast – in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Situated just east of the Appalachian Mountains, these counties have some of the most productive farmland in the state, though this does not account for their political importance. They sit between Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Washington, and Baltimore – and their populations have been growing as people willing to commute look for new places to settle. Like most “exurbs” nationwide, Bush did exceedingly well here, winning more than 3 out of 5 voters in both counties in 2004. McCain will have to match that. A strong performance here is already built into a Republican loss. So, he cannot afford to underperform here.

(4) The West. Culturally conservative western Pennsylvania has been trending Republican in recent years. For a long while, their ties to American industry induced them to vote Democratic, even as the Party of Jackson moved to the left on cultural issues. With the decline of industry, the area’s allegiance to the Democratic Party has weakened. Meanwhile, the region is still largely pro-life and pro-gun, which has given the GOP an opening. In fact, George W. Bush did better in the five outer counties of metropolitan Pittsburgh than any Republican since 1972.