GovernorEd Rendell (D)
SenatorsArlen Specter (D)
Robert Casey, Jr. (D)
- 12 D, 7 R
- 1 through 19
Pennsylvania started off as the center of America. Philadelphia was the 13 colonies’ largest city when it hosted the Continental Congress in 1776 and the Constitutional Convention in 1787. It was one of the newer colonies, founded 52 years after Massachusetts and 75 years after Virginia. Under the benevolent rule of the Penn family and with its Quaker traditions, Pennsylvania soon became the major settlement in the Middle Colonies. Its tolerance attracted Englishmen of many religious sects and thousands of Germans as well. Bordermen from Scotland, Yorkshire and Northern Ireland crossed the corduroy-like ridges of the Appalachians and settled the mountainous interior where Gen. Edward Braddock had been beaten by the French and Indians not long before. Pennsylvania, in the geometric lines founding father William Penn had obtained from King Charles II, connected two major river systems—the golden triangle where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers joined to form the Ohio, and the wide Delaware estuary, with its thriving commerce and rich hinterland. Philadelphia was, after London and Dublin, the largest Georgian city in the late 18th century, seemingly destined to be the London of America, the metropolis of government and commerce and culture. Pittsburgh was the frontier metropolis, the gateway to the great interior of North America and the fulcrum point of American expansion.
But Philadelphia—and Pennsylvania—failed to hold the central position the founding founders had expected. As part of a political deal, the young nation’s capital was located on a site along the Potomac River rather than on the Delaware. And the railroad built from the Hudson to Lake Erie channeled trade away from Philadelphia to New York. Philadelphia lost its chance to be the nation’s financial capital when Andrew Jackson in righteous rage vetoed the rechartering of the Second Bank of the United States. Philadelphia’s Quaker tradition, tolerant of diversity, was overshadowed in intellectual life by New England’s Puritan tradition, morally stern, angrily intolerant, ready to use the state to impose cultural values from abolition to prohibition. Instead, Pennsylvania became America’s energy and heavy industry capital. The reason was coal. Northeast Pennsylvania was the nation’s primary source of anthracite, the hard coal used for home heating, and western Pennsylvania was laced with bituminous coal, the soft coal used in steel production. Connected with Philadelphia by the Pennsylvania Railroad, Pittsburgh was the center of the nation’s steel industry by 1890.
Immigrants poured in from Europe and from the surrounding hills to work in western Pennsylvania’s mines and factories. Pittsburgh became synonymous with industrial prosperity. In 1900, Pennsylvania was the nation’s second-largest state and growing rapidly. But the boom ended conclusively with the Great Depression of the 1930s, and in parts of Pennsylvania it has never returned. After World War II, both home heating and industry switched away from coal. Even when coal prices boomed in the 1970s, strip mining created relatively few new jobs. Similarly, Pennsylvania steel began its decline three decades ago, when management decided not to keep up with new technology and agreed to big wage and benefit increases with the mistaken confidence they could pass the costs along. Big steel got import quotas as long ago as 1969—Pennsylvania has been a protectionist state since the first Bessemer converter furnaces were lit—but they didn’t create jobs. By the time quotas lapsed in the 1990s, the industry had modernized, but mostly in huge new Indiana mills and in small mini-mills scattered far from the factories that once lined the Monongahela. Only the embers remain, or, the fires: The Red Ash colliery fire, ignited in 1915, burns on beneath the hills above Wilkes-Barre, as do 35 other fires in abandoned coal mines.
The result has been the slowest population growth of any major state: There were 9.6 million Pennsylvanians in 1930, and 12.4 million in 2008. Pennsylvania cast 36 electoral votes for Franklin Roosevelt in 1940 and 21 for Barack Obama in 2008. It had 30 House members, as many as California, in 1960, but now has 19 to California’s 53. People growing up here are as likely to leave as they are to stay, and few outsiders move in. Pennsylvania looks and sounds today like it did in the 1940s, with the significant difference that Pennsylvania in 1940 had lots of young people, while the Pennsylvania of today has the second largest elderly population, after Florida, of any state. In recent years, eastern Pennsylvania has enjoyed a boomlet of refugees from high-tax, adjacent states. From 1990 to 2008, the population of the 19 counties east of the first major Appalachian ridge grew 11% with newcomers pouring in from New York and New Jersey. Marylanders have settled in Lancaster and York counties west of Philadelphia. It has been mainly white-collar growth. In the same period, the population of the 48 counties west of the ridge declined 3%.
Although Pennsylvania started off as the country’s center of government, government has not been central to Pennsylvania for most of its history. During the Civil War, Pennsylvania was the site of the northernmost advance of the Confederate Army, at Carlisle, just north of Gettysburg. For generations afterward, it was the most Republican of the large states, because of Abraham Lincoln and the Union, and because of the steel industry and the high tariff. Its malodorous Republican machines built parties that were not representative of one ethnic segment but had a place for just about everyone. In 1932, Pennsylvania was the only big state that stuck with Republican Herbert Hoover and voted against Democrat Franklin Roosevelt. But then, the political landscape changed. The New Deal, John L. Lewis’s United Mine Workers and the CIO industrial union movement, and a series of bloody strikes made industrial Pennsylvania almost as Democratic in the 1930s and 1940s as it had been Republican from the 1860s to the 1920s. Even then, parts of Pennsylvania not heavy with big steel factories and coal mines—the northern tier of counties along the New York border, the central part of the state around Altoona, and the Pennsylvania Dutch country around Lancaster—remained the strongest Republican voting bloc in the East. Philadelphia became a heavily Democratic city, but in the suburban counties, the old Republican machines stayed in control. The result was a pivotal marginal state in presidential elections from the 1950s to the 1990s.
In the 1980s, prosperous eastern Pennsylvania trended Republican and ailing western Pennsylvania trended Democratic. In the 1990s, culturally liberal eastern Pennsylvania trended Democratic and culturally conservative western Pennsylvania trended Republican. The east is larger—metro Philadelphia cast 34% of the state’s votes in 2004 and metro Pittsburgh 24%—and the state has mostly gone its way. Pennsylvania voted Republican for president three times in the 1980s and Democratic for president in the five elections from 1992 to 2008. Metro Philadelphia, which voted 50%-49% for Democrat Michael Dukakis in 1988, voted 66%-33% for Democrat Barack Obama in 2008. Metro Pittsburgh, which voted 59%-40% for Dukakis, gave Obama only 51%-48%. Similarly, the eastern 19 counties, which voted 54% for George H.W. Bush in 1988, voted 54% against his son in 2004 and 59% for Obama in 2008. The western 48 counties, which voted 52% against Bush Sr. in 1988 and then voted 52% for Bush Jr. in 2004 gave Republican presidential nominee John McCain a 50%-49% victory in 2008. Western Pennsylvania’s slight move to the Republicans was thus more than counterbalanced by eastern Pennsylvania’s move to the Democrats. Eastern Pennsylvania’s share of the statewide vote increased from 53% in 1988 to 58% in 2008.
The persistence of these countervailing trends has given Pennsylvania a balance on cultural issues that is different from any other state’s. In 1986, the state elected a Democratic governor, Robert Casey, who was a strong opponent of abortion rights. In 1994, it elected a pro-abortion rights Republican, Tom Ridge. Then, Democrat Ed Rendell won the 2002 election largely because of his huge margins in his home area of metropolitan Philadelphia. From 1994 to 2006, Pennsylvania had two Republican senators, moderate Arlen Specter and conservative Rick Santorum, whose opposite stands on issues can be illuminated by recognizing that the first is from Philadelphia and the second from Pittsburgh.
In 2006, after Santorum had taken his anti-abortion rights position to un-Pennsylvania-like extremes, national Democrats put up an anti-abortion candidate, Bob Casey Jr., to challenge Santorum. Casey beat him 59%-41%. Democrats also transformed a 12-7 Republican edge in the state’s congressional delegation—the result of a partisan districting plan—into a 12-7 Democratic advantage in 2008. When GOP Sen. Arlen Specter switched parties in 2009, after being threatened in the 2010 primary by a diehard conservative, Pennsylvania had two Democratic senators for the first time (except for two years in the 1940s) since 1856.
2008 Presidential Vote
2008 Democratic Presidential Primary
2008 Republican Presidential Primary
From 1976 to 2004, Pennsylvania was a seriously contested state in every presidential general election, while its presidential primary had little impact on outcomes. In 2008 that pattern came close to being reversed. Falling six weeks after contests in Ohio and Texas, Pennsylvania’s April primary was an epic battleground in the close contest between Democrats Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. In the general election, both parties started off targeting Pennsylvania, and all candidates campaigned extensively in the state. But the final result—a 54%-44% Obama victory—made it clear that Pennsylvania was not really in contention.
Pennsylvania was not supposed to be a Democratic primary battleground in 2008. Typically, by the time the state voted in April, someone had clinched the nomination in the caucuses and primaries held in the nine weeks between January 3 and March 4. But this time, the March 4 results left the Democrats nearly deadlocked. Obama had a narrow lead in delegates, but Clinton had just won in Ohio and Texas, two of the seven largest states, and Pennsylvania looked, demographically and politically, a lot like Ohio. By contrast, Obama seemed to be headed into hostile territory. Videotapes of divisive, black-versus-white speeches by his pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright of Chicago, were played over and over on cable television, and Obama felt he needed to respond. He delivered a thoughtful, frank and stirring speech on race relations in the United States in Philadelphia.
But he also squandered goodwill in other quarters with his off-the-cuff comments that people in small towns were “bitter” about their economic straits, and “they cling to guns and religion.” News of his remarks, made at a fundraiser in San Francisco, did not play well in blue-collar Pennsylvania. Moreover, it was plain from earlier results in Ohio, Virginia, Tennessee and Georgia that he was particularly weak in Jacksonian America, in the Appalachian chain that stretches from Alabama and Georgia in the south to southwestern Pennsylvania, a weakness that some ascribed to racism. But that explanation overlooked the fact that southwest Virginia counties who rejected Obama by overwhelming margins had voted for Douglas Wilder, an African-American, for governor in 1989. Obama had the support of Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, Jr., who hoped to help Obama carry his base in the anthracite coal country around Scranton. But Clinton had the support of Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, who had strong appeal in metro Philadelphia, especially in the suburban counties that Obama hoped to carry.
The battle turned out to be a milestone of the primary season, complete with bowling and cheese steaks and 2.3 million registered Democrats who voted. More than 130,000 of them switched their party registration to do so. This was far above the 1.3 million-1.5 million turnouts in Democratic primaries from 1972 to 1992, and triple the 700,000-odd turnouts in 2000 and 2004, when Pennsylvania Democrats voted after the contest was long over.
Clinton won a convincing 55%-45% victory. As in earlier contests in other states, she ran strongest among older and downscale voters, and she won among Jewish and Latino voters, enabling her to carry suburban Montgomery and Bucks counties. Obama carried only seven counties—Philadelphia, Delaware and Dauphin, with large black populations; Chester and Lancaster, relatively affluent areas; and Centre and Union, dominated by Penn State University and Bucknell College. Nonetheless, Obama’s huge majority in Philadelphia enabled him to carry the 19 counties of eastern Pennsylvania by 52%-48%. Clinton won 69% to 79% in five counties just southwest of Pittsburgh and beat Obama 63%-37% in the 48 counties of western Pennsylvania.
As November approached, Obama’s apparent weakness among key electoral groups, plus the fact that Democratic presidential candidates Al Gore and John Kerry had carried Pennsylvania with just 51% of the vote in 2000 and 2004, put Pennsylvania on everyone’s list of target states. After the Democratic National Convention in August, Obama and running mate Joe Biden of Delaware headed straight for Beaver County, just northwest of Pittsburgh, to campaign in the old steel country that Obama had lost 69%-30% in the primary. Later in the campaign, Biden campaigned in Scranton, Pa., where he had been born and lived for the first years of his life. Republican opponent John McCain sent in vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, the governor of Alaska, for multiple visits. Polls showed a tight race for most of September. Then, Obama established a substantial lead the first week of October. But McCain strategists, having conceded Michigan, continued to contest Pennsylvania, on the accurate assumption that without it, their candidate had no chance of an electoral-vote majority.
Obama won Pennsylvania 54%-44%. He carried the 19 counties of eastern Pennsylvania 59%-40%, running far ahead of Democrats John Kerry in 2004 and Al Gore in 2000. He lost the 48 counties of western Pennsylvania by only 50%-49%, a marginal improvement on Kerry’s results and virtually the same as Gore’s. Turnout was up only 4% from 2004, far less than the turnout increase of 17% from 2000 to 2004, similar to the pattern in Ohio and Florida, which were also furiously contested in all three elections. (Even the most assiduous turnout drives eventually produce diminishing returns.) Turnout rose more than average in areas where Obama ran well, a sign of his organizing prowess. It was up in Philadelphia, in fast-growing counties in eastern Pennsylvania and in the university counties of Centre and Union. Overall, turnout rose 7% in the 19 counties of eastern Pennsylvania and only 1% in the 48 counties of western Pennsylvania. Obama’s biggest percentage gains over Kerry in 2004 came not so much in metro Philadelphia but in fast-growing counties along the state’s eastern and southeastern borders. Newcomers leaving high-tax states may have been, if less liberal than voters in the states they left, more liberal than most voters in Pennsylvania.
There was little evidence of an increase in voter turnout among Republicans. The national exit poll showed that party identification switched from 41%-39% Democratic in 2004 to 44%-37% Democratic in 2008, presumably mostly because of changes in eastern Pennsylvania. Young voters preferred Obama 65%-35% and Baby Boomers (age 45-64) preferred him 55%-43%. The rest of the electorate was evenly split. The anthracite area around Scranton delivered handsome majorities to the Obama-Biden ticket, despite its primary votes, as did Jewish and Latino voters. Southwestern Pennsylvania tended to vote against the Democratic ticket. White Catholics voted 54% for McCain and white Protestants 61% for him, but blacks voted 95% for Obama, and voters registering no religion—11% of the total—voted 84% for Obama. Voters with incomes over $150,000, a group heavily concentrated in the Philadelphia suburbs, voted 58% for Obama.
|111th Congress: 12 D, 7 R|
Pennsylvania is projected to lose one of its 19 House seats after the 2010 census. Because western Pennsylvania has been losing population, it is likely to forfeit a seat. But the current grotesque district boundaries—Pennsylvania has been rated the second most gerrymandered state—plus the possibility that incumbents of both parties could lose in 2010, make any prediction hazardous.
In 2001 and 2002, Republicans held the governorship and majorities in both houses of the Legislature, and so were in firm control of redistricting. They were determined to redraw the lines in such a way that an 11-10 advantage in the congressional delegation would be a 13-6 advantage. Demographics suggested eliminating one district each from Philadelphia and the Pittsburgh area. In late 2001, state Senate Republicans unveiled their plan, which put three pairs of Democratic incumbents into the same districts: Tim Holden and Paul Kanjorski, John Murtha and Frank Mascara, and Joe Hoeffel and Robert Borski. It created new Republican-leaning districts with no incumbents in metro Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and it seemed likely to raise the Republican edge to 13-6.
But state House Majority Leader John Perzel, a Republican from Philadelphia, had a different idea. Perzel is from Northeast Philadelphia, and wanted to preserve three Philadelphia seats, which meant putting more Philadelphia Democrats than suburban Democrats in the new district pairing Philadelphian Bob Borski and suburbanite Joe Hoeffel. Perzel’s House plan protected Murtha, the second-ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, and did not create a new Republican-leaning suburban Pittsburgh district. In the days that followed, Perzel got phone calls from National Republican Congressional Campaign Chairman Tom Davis of Virginia and White House political strategist Karl Rove. Democrats in Georgia had just passed a redistricting plan that seemed likely to cost Republicans seats the two had counted on, and they asked Perzel to accept the Senate plan. In January 2002, an agreement was reached. The new plan made adjustments in western Pennsylvania to please Murtha. Instead of pairing Democrats Holden and Kanjorski, it put Holden and Republican George Gekas in the same district. Overall, it eliminated four Democratic seats and created two Republican-leaning seats.
Lawsuits were filed in both federal and state courts. Democrats argued that the plan was unconstitutional as an obvious partisan gerrymander. But the U.S. Supreme Court, in redistricting cases in the 1990s, had said that while it was unconstitutional to draw contorted boundaries for racial reasons, it was permissible to do so for partisan reasons.
The plan achieved most of its partisan aims, but only for a while. Republicans took the new suburban districts, and Murtha won re-election handily. Borski decided to retire from the House. But Democrat Holden beat Republican Gekas in the new Republican-leaning 17th District. The result was a 12-7 Republican delegation, and indicated that Republicans’ hold on several districts was shaky. That was born out by the results of the 2006 elections. Democrats gained four seats in the House delegation and emerged with an 11-8 edge. They captured an additional seat in 2008 and now have a 12-7 edge.