Pennsylvania 3rd District
The best natural harbor on Lake Erie is in Erie, Pennsylvania, protected by the Presque Isle (“almost an island”) peninsula—a cowlick-shaped, seven-mile-long sand spit blanketed by mature forest, with a lighthouse dating to 1872. Erie is in Pennsylvania’s far northwest corner, only about 100 miles from Cleveland but 428 miles from Center City Philadelphia. There is farmland here, and even some woods, but the land between the Great Lakes and the basin of the Ohio River has been prime heavy industry territory for more than a century. The jeep, which Gen. George Marshall called America’s greatest contribution to World War II, was invented in Butler County. In the 1990s, under Republican Gov. Tom Ridge, an Erie native, the state invested $100 million in Erie’s waterfront to develop a cruise ship terminal, hotel and convention center, a ballpark for the single-A Erie SeaWolves baseball team, and restorations to the Warner Theatre. The effort spruced up a dying downtown, but it didn’t buffer Erie from a subsequent economic downturn. International Paper, American Meter, Gunite/EMI and American Sterilizer laid off employees and closed plants. Local colleges document a brain drain as high as 70% from the region. General Electric, the area’s largest employer for much of the 20th century, also had major cutbacks, though it still had 5,500 employees in 2008.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 3rd Congressional District of Pennsylvania occupies this northwest corner of the state—all of Erie County, most of Mercer, Crawford and Butler counties and about half of Warren, Venango, and Armstrong counties. Erie County has 44% of the district’s population, and had almost no population gains from 2000 to 2007. Growth has been modest in Butler County, on the northern edge of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, while other parts of the district have lost population. Politically, the mix of industrial and rural voters makes for closely balanced territory. Erie and Mercer counties vote Democratic in most national elections, but they have also voted for Republicans with working class appeal, like Ridge, who is from a Catholic working-class family in Erie. The other counties are culturally conservative and solidly Republican. In 2008, GOP presidential nominee John McCain won the district by a mere 17 votes out of more than 291,000 cast. McCain won all of the outlying counties, but Democrat Barack Obama carried Erie, 59%-39%.