Reports that a new bill in Pennsylvania would award electoral votes by congressional district -- abandoning the state's current winner-take-all approach -- were greeted with disappointment from members of both parties on Monday morning.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, and former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele both criticized the change in appearances on MSNBC on Monday. Rendell called the proposal “somewhere between reprehensible and disgraceful,” arguing that it would disenfranchise voters by taking power away from populous areas, while Steele called the idea “bad politics.”
The move is most likely aimed at President Obama, whose party has won the state's electoral votes since 1992. Republicans in the state legislature are backing the change from Pennsylvania’s current winner-take-all system with a bill that is on track for hearings next month and could pass in time for the 2012 elections, The New York Times reported Monday.
Rendell and Steel agreed that, if electoral votes were awarded by congressional district, Democrats would take their focus away from Philadelphia and zero in on districts held by vulnerable, suburban Republicans.
“You wind up diminishing the opportunities for Republicans to win,” Steele said. “The legislature has to be very careful here how they try to take the political axe and carve up the state for presidential politics. Because it's the local stuff that really matters the most.”
Redistricting, which Republicans control in Pennsylvania, will leave the state with 12 Republican seats and six Democratic seats next year. The state will have 20 electoral votes. Under the proposal, the candidate who wins the statewide popular vote would win the additional two electoral votes.
Awarding electoral votes by congressional district would all but guarantee that both presidential candidates would win at least some electoral votes, The Times reported. Conceivably, Obama could win the popular vote in Pennsylvania next year and carry the six Democratic districts but end up with only 8 electoral votes to the Republican nominee’s 12.
Pennsylvania has gone for a Democratic presidential candidate in the last five elections, but analysts say that the Republican Party has a real chance to take the battleground state in 2012. “Why would they undermine that chance?” Rendell said of Republicans. “It’s much more work on the Republicans' part than they really need to do,” Steele agreed.