Pennsylvania 4th District
For a century, one of America’s great industrial zones was near the intersection of the Beaver and Ohio rivers in western Pennsylvania. This was steel country, with mills rising black and brooding from the bottomlands and filling the narrow river valleys with smoke. Immigrant families lived in small frame houses on hillsides, looking down on riverscapes lined with piles of iron ore, limestone, and coal and littered with cranes, stocks and furnaces. This was not an environmentalist’s idea of perfection, but it was a land of opportunity for thousands whose lives were worse before moving to steel country. One grandchild of a Hungarian immigrant steelworker in Beaver Falls grew up to be Joe Namath, one of the many great quarterbacks produced by southwestern Pennsylvania (fellow Hall of Famers Jim Kelly, Joe Montana and Dan Marino are a few of the others). During the heady years, high union wages and early retirement plans made working in the mills a path to the middle class. But the industry crashed after the oil shock of 1979. Many mills closed and jobs vanished. Today, thousands of workers who long ago exhausted their unemployment benefits have given up and left the Beaver and Ohio valleys.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 4th Congressional District of Pennsylvania includes much of steel country and, equally important, a large swath of suburban Pittsburgh. The 4th begins around Farrell in Mercer County, located as close to Erie as to Pittsburgh, then travels south along Route 60 through steel-mill country in Lawrence and Beaver counties. Aliquippa, a typically distressed former steel-mill city, is where composer Henry Mancini and football icon Mike Ditka grew up but then left for brighter futures elsewhere. The district then turns to the east, taking in a fast-growing tier of suburban southern Butler County and the longer-established Allegheny County suburbs north of Pittsburgh. It includes old-money Fox Chapel and Sewickley, which is now attracting the region’s high-tech wealth, and affluent McCandless and middle-class Ross in the North Hills. It also takes in a tiny portion of Westmoreland County. The steel mill areas tend to be Democratic, with unions still capable of flexing some muscle. The suburbs of Butler County are tax-averse and strongly Republican, with solid growth in Cranberry and Seven Fields. The older suburbs in Allegheny County, with some of the highest senior citizen populations in the country, are politically marginal; they are more Democratic than Butler, but much more Republican than the city of Pittsburgh. Overall, the district’s heritage is Democratic but it has been trending slightly toward the Republicans. George W. Bush carried this district with 54% of the vote in 2004. Although 2008 Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama launched his post-convention campaign in Beaver County, Republican John McCain won it with 55% of the vote.