Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Keystone State of Pennsylvania is increasingly looking like Sen. Hillary Clinton’s last stand in her quest for the Democratic nomination for president of the United States. And, by all accounts, it should be friendly territory. But as other candidates have learned to their peril, Pennsylvania is politically complicated and never to be taken for granted.

With nearly 3.9 million Democrats and six media markets, Pennsylvania is home to the fourth-largest delegation to the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Most of the state’s 188 delegates will be elected in the 19 congressional districts or apportioned based on the statewide presidential vote, with the remaining 30 superdelegates comprised of Gov. Ed Rendell, Sen. Robert Casey, the 11 Democratic members of Congress, state party leaders and 12 members of the Democratic National Committee.

All in all, Pennsylvania is a prize worth fighting over.

But the state is a Pennsylvania Dutch quilt of hues and textures that defy quick characterization or easy campaigning. One-third of the state’s Democrats live in the city of Philadelphia and its three bedroom counties, but they are about as different as you can imagine from the Democrats 300 miles away in Pittsburgh and southwestern Pennsylvania where just under one million Democrats reside.And that still leaves 40 percent of the state’s Democrats who live in Pennsylvania’s industrial valleys, rural plains and scenic mountains from Erie to Johnstown to York/Lancaster/Reading to Wilkes Barre/Scranton to Allentown/Bethlehem — and lots of places in between.

But if campaigns don’t end in Philadelphia, they usually begin there.The city of brotherly love may not show much sisterly affection to Mrs. Clinton. Philadelphia Democrats are 46 percent African American, a perfect target for Sen. Barack Obama.Mrs. Clinton is helped by support from both Mr. Rendell and the city’s popular new African American mayor, Michael Nutter.If she is to carry Pennsylvania, Mrs. Clinton must cut into the identity voting that has understandably helped Mr. Obama among African Americans, while boosting her own support among women, particularly suburban women.

The Philadelphia suburbs are notoriously schizophrenic, voting for Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore and the re-election of incumbent Republican Sen. Rick Santorum at the same time in 2000. And these same suburbs are never predictable. Despite Mrs. Clinton’s appeal there as an intelligent woman and a pro-choice feminist, Mr. Obama will certainly find support among Philadelphia’s economically well-off and intellectual elites. He will do better in southeastern Pennsylvania than many expect.

Ironically, Mrs. Clinton’s greatest source of electoral support could come from the other end of the state, a region that President Bush nearly carried despite a preponderance of Democrats.Geographically within 30 miles of Ohio, Pittsburgh and its surrounding counties are more Midwestern grit than East Coast chic. Here, the Democrats are socially conservative but often allied with a labor union in the belief that Democrats better understand the challenges of working Americans.

Labor is still important in many parts of the state, and Mrs. Clinton and her husband have enjoyed very strong ties to Pennsylvania’s unions, which is why a number of local labor leaders are running as Clinton delegates in the April 22 primary. Over the years, Hillary and husband Bill have been visible throughout the commonwealth, especially Western Pennsylvania.In contrast, Mr. Obama has not yet campaigned here and is still unfamiliar to many. One African American woman in Pittsburgh, who is a superdelegate and supporting Mrs. Clinton, told me she has never had a phone call from Mr. Obama even when he stopped by the city to raise money last year.

A week ago, the Allegheny County (Greater Pittsburgh) Democratic committee people, who are elected in more than 1,300 precincts, voted 837-453 to endorse Mrs. Clinton over Mr. Obama. It was a nonbinding vote, but a signal nonetheless of Mrs. Clinton’s strength among the party faithful.To win on April 22, she must maintain that support by being the more conservative of the two candidates on economic, social and military issues. And, for heaven’s sakes, don’t utter the words gun control. In all parts of the state, except Philadelphia, every other person has a hunter in the family, making the Second Amendment sacrosanct.

Throughout Pennsylvania, the 60-year old Mrs. Clinton also has a potential advantage because of the age of the voting population. The elderly vote here, and they swing elections. More than half of the voters who never miss an election are 60 years of age and older. I recall a recent Democratic primary in Pittsburgh where 30 percent of the voters who turned out were 70 and older. If the charismatic Illinois senator is making inroads among this older constituency, Pennsylvania will be his true test.

Pennsylvania has a lot of university students, young professionals, anti-war liberals and passionate progressives who admire Mr. Obama, and getting these folks to the polls, as he has had elsewhere, will be key to the Keystone State.

Finally, Pennsylvania likes winners. No Democrat has won the White House since 1948 without carrying the state of Pennsylvania. If one candidate appears to be on a roll to victory by late April, don’t look for Pennsylvania to stand in the way. But if it’s still a contest, Pennsylvania is up for grabs.

Jon Delano, who teaches at Carnegie Mellon University’s H. John Heinz School of Public Policy, has lived in both Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. He was chief of staff to a Pennsylvania congressman for 14 years.

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