Pennsylvania 6th District
The gentle hills of southeastern Pennsylvania, settled in the 18th century by Quaker townsmen, Welsh farmers, German peasants, and members of pietistic sects who became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, were America’s first polyglot interior. Before and after independence, a diverse lot looking for tolerance in the area above Philadelphia and the Delaware River found a land that yielded riches, first in crops, then in ironworking and other industry. Valley Forge is where Gen. George Washington and his men spent the terrible winter and spring of 1777-78, while the British luxuriated in Philadelphia 25 miles away. In Revolutionary times, the area was countryside, a long day’s ride from the markets and docks of Philadelphia. Then, rail lines were built from Philadelphia: The Main Line of the Pennsylvania Railroad headed west to industrial Pittsburgh and the Midwest, and the Reading Railroad headed northwest to Reading and the anthracite coalfields beyond. Factories were built in some of the towns here, and many farms continued to thrive, but by the late 19th century some of this land had become commuter territory.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The most lavish Philadelphia suburbs were built on the Main Line, where in mansions shaded by huge trees, Philadelphia’s captains of commerce could get respite from the rowhouses and narrow streets of the city. By the late 20th century, highways and giant shopping centers had sprung up. This was affluent suburbia for the masses, or a large part of them. Prosperity even came to some of the factory towns. Reading, the decaying industrial town described in John Updike’s Rabbit novels, in the 1970s was the site of the first factory outlet store, when a company called Vanity Fair began selling seconds and overruns of stockings and lingerie at wholesale prices.
The 6th Congressional District of Pennsylvania includes parts of this countryside in Chester County, which has about 40% of the population, and Berks and Montgomery counties, with 30% each. Chester County has the highest median income levels in Pennsylvania and is its fastest growing major county, though mushroom farming remains abundant. The boundaries of the 6th District are irregular. Geographically, the main body of the district is northern Chester County, including Coatesville, Downingtown and Phoenixville, and southern Berks County. The district also includes a salient that runs northward in eastern Berks County, with its rapidly growing exurbs. Another, much more heavily populated salient reaches into Montgomery County from Pottstown to Lower Merion Township, which is home to some of Philadelphia’s wealthiest people. The district includes Valley Forge, with its American Revolution Center, part but not all of Reading, and most of the Main Line suburbs: Ardmore, Bryn Mawr, and part of Paoli. Until the 1990s, the area had been heavily Republican, and the district was drawn for a Republican. But the suburbs of Philadelphia, like those in other large metropolitan areas, have trended to the Democrats since 2000. Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry carried it 51%-48% in 2004. Barack Obama won it 58%-41% in 2008. He led comfortably in each of the three counties, illustrative of his strong showing in the Philadelphia suburbs.