Politically Savvy Friends

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Pennsylvania Delivers

Dear Politically Savvy Friend,

In the end, he made it seem so easy. Barack Hussein Obama -- yes, a man with an Arab or Muslim middle name -- won the presidency of the United States by more than 7.5 million popular votes and an Electoral College landslide, or what certainly looks like a landslide after President Bush's narrow wins in 2000 and 2004. President-elect Obama did it the old-fashioned way -- issues, shoe leather, volunteers, and, yes, lots of money!


Pennsylvania Summary:

Early Tuesday evening, it was clear to many of us that Obama’s coalition of supporters would put him over the top. Once the “must-win” state of Pennsylvania was denied to John McCain, it was difficult to envision an electoral scenario that could propel the Republican to the White House. McCain's political nail in the coffin occurred shortly thereafter when the neighboring state of Ohio cast its lot with Obama. From that moment on, it was only a matter of hours until enough electoral votes were declared to give the Democrat his victory at 11:01 pm ET. As McCain delivered his concession speech, Florida came through for Obama as well, giving him a trifecta -- three of the three must-win states.

Obama's win in this Pennsylvania was impressive. With 98% of the votes counted, Obama defeated McCain by 11 points: 3.16 million votes to 2.52 million or 55% to 44% [Ralph Nader and Bob Barr split one percent of the vote] -- or a margin of around 644,000 votes out of the 5,745,000 votes cast yesterday. The last time a presidential candidate won by that big a margin in Pennsylvania was 36 years ago when Richard Nixon defeated George McGovern in 1972 by 907,000 votes.

So how did Obama do this here? Simply put, he clobbered McCain in Philadelphia and its Republican suburbs -- and he racked up wins in the urban counties around the state like Allegheny (Pittsburgh), Cambria (Johnstown), Centre (State College),Dauphin (Harrisburg), Erie (Erie), Lackawanna (Scranton), Lehigh (Allentown), Luzerne (Wilkes-Barre), and Northampton (Bethlehem). In the end, it didn't matter that most of the rest of Pennsylvania voted Republican.

Still, in many ways, this PA election was the tale of two regions: southeastern PA and southwestern PA. Obama overwhelmed McCain in one – and performed worst than some expected in the other. His biggest win was the city of Philadelphia, where Obama did better than John Kerry, who had set the record with a 414,000-vote margin. Obama broke that record Tuesday, winning the city by a massive 458,784 votes (unofficially). While not the 500,000-vote margin the governor would have loved, it was mighty convincing! Equally important, in the four bedroom counties outside Philly, Obama swept it all, winning three suburban Republican counties. He won Bucks County by 28,000; he won Chester County by 22,000; he won Delaware County by 59,000; and he won Montgomery County by a whopping 86,000 votes.

Southwest PA Plays Hard to Get:

In southwestern PA, it was a different story. Allegheny County (Greater Pittsburgh) gave Obama his biggest victory, winning by 98,600 votes over McCain. [John Kerry won Allegheny County by 97,000 votes four years ago]. But the outlying counties were not so kind to Obama even though most are overwhelmingly Democratic. McCain actually did better than George W. Bush in 2004. McCain won Armstrong County by 7,000 votes; McCain won Beaver County by 2,500; McCain won Butler County by 23,000; McCain won Fayette County by 160 votes; McCain won Greene County by 86 votes; McCain won Indiana County by 2,500 votes; McCain won Lawrence County by 2,000 votes; McCain won Washington County by 4,400 votes; and McCain won Westmoreland County by 26,000 votes. Many of these counties have large Democratic majorities.

Was U.S. Rep. Jack Murtha right? Is it true that western PA (outside of Allegheny County and Cambria County) just couldn't vote for a bi-racial candidate for president? Well, pundits can debate that for years to come. Obviously, race plays some role. But I think a better explanation is the conservative nature of the Democratic voters in these outlying counties: pro-gun, pro-life, pro-religion, pro-small town America. Second, McCain and Palin practically lived here for the last two months with multiple visits designed to stress their identification with the concerns and lifestyle of this region.

The Obama campaign often gave the impression of ignoring southwestern PA while spreading love all over the southeast (Philadelphia). It may have been a smart strategy given limited time for their candidate. But, privately, local Democratic leaders in this region felt the Obama campaign was giving short shift to western PA. Nonetheless, the margin out of the five southeastern counties in the Philly area was an amazing 653,000 votes over McCain.

In the end, Obama did exactly what he had to do, even here in this region. When you subtract all those southwestern counties that voted against Obama from his big vote in Allegheny County, guess who's the winner? You got it. President-elect Obama still won this region, netting 30,000 votes from the 10-county area in this southwest corner of the commonwealth.

Pennsylvania Exit Polls:

So how did Obama do it, chalking up numbers unseen in 36 years of presidential politics in this state? Exit polls give some clues. On race, blacks voted for Obama 95% to 5%, but African Americans comprised only 13% of the PA electorate. What gave Obama his solid victory was a nearly even split among white voters, 48% for Obama to 51% for McCain. While Hispanics are not many in PA, Obama won 72% of them here, as well. In short, Obama did well in PA because he attracted voters of all races.

According to exit polls, Obama overwhelmingly won the young voters in Pennsylvania, winning 66% of those 18 to 24 years of age and 64% of those between 25 and 30. But the president-elect also attracted support of some of the older folks, winning 57% of those between 50 and 65. As for the coveted 65+ crowd, Obama split that group evenly, 49% to 50%
While some Catholic clerics tried to influence their parishioners to vote pro-life, Catholic voters – just like Protestants – split right down the middle between Obama and McCain.

Finally, on issues, it was pretty clear-cut: 58% of those who said the economy was the most important issue opted for Obama; 66% of those who said the war in Iraq was most important voted Obama; 53% who named energy as the top issue supported Obama; and 71% who put health care at the top voted Obama.


Corbett Survives the Tidal Wave:

Attorney General Tom Corbett solidified his credentials as the Republican's best hope to capture the governorship in 2010. Despite the Democratic tide, the suburban Pittsburgh Republican won a 365,000 vote margin over his Democratic opponent, Northampton district attorney John Morganelli. Corbett had double the cash and with the help of his superb media consultant, John Brabender (yes, the architect of Rick Santorum's emergence on the political scene beginning in 1990) had the best television ads. Corbett's high profile on the Bonusgate scandal, especially in this region, certainly helped. While Allegheny County was voting for Obama by nearly a hundred thousand votes, Corbett actually carried his home county by 34,000 votes -- not bad for a Republican. What also made a big difference was Corbett's wins in suburban Philadelphia, where he defied the presidential trend by winning Bucks, Chester, and Delaware Counties and only losing Montgomery County by 2,400 votes.

Wagner Positions Himself for the Future:

Auditor General Jack Wagner, a Democrat, swept to a second term, adding to his own bona fides as a potential candidate for either governor or U.S. senator in 2010. It was a landslide for Wagner who defeated Republican gazebo manufacturer Chet Beiler by 1.27 million votes. Wow! Wagner, a generally conservative Democrat, blitzed the state, winning 41 of the state's 67 counties, a remarkable achievement for a Democrat. In fact, it didn’t take Wagner’s press folks to rush out a press release touting his 3.2 million votes as the most received by any PA candidate on the ballot on Tuesday. But it’s not a record. Bob Casey got 3.3 million votes in 2004 when he was reelected state treasurer.

Enter Rob McCord:

The open seat for state Treasurer will be filled by Democrat Rob McCord who beat former Montgomery County commissioner Tom Ellis by 678,000 votes. McCord is a newcomer to the state political scene, but I suspect it won't be long before the well-spoken suburban Philadelphian makes his presence known. One sign that McCord may have some other elective desires is the fact he decided to spend election night in Pittsburgh rather than in his hometown.


Pennsylvania Democrats not only beat back the Republican attempt to defeat a couple of their incumbent congressmen, but they also added to their numbers from Pennsylvania. The state's 19 representatives in the 111th Congress will be 12 Democrats and 7 Republicans. There's some irony here because when the Republican-controlled state legislature and a Republican governor (Tom Ridge) gerrymandered PA's congressional districts after the 2000 census, they elected 12 Republicans from PA. Now the situation is reversed in the very same districts the Republicans created! Of course, the state now has many more Democrats than in did eight years ago.

Dahlkemper Makes History:

U.S. Rep. Phil English (3rd CD), the Erie Republican, was defeated by Erie Democrat Kathy Dahlkemper. Dahlkemper calls herself a conservative Democrat -- pro-life, pro-gun, pro-small business -- but that didn't stop House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) from pumping a lot of money into her race. In the end, she beat English by 8,300 votes. She kept it close in most of the counties, including Butler and Armstrong outside of Pittsburgh, and clinched victory with a 16,000-vote win in Erie County. Dahlkemper has told me that she wants to be more visible in the Pittsburgh media market than her predecessor. Her sister and son live in this area, and her first grandchild will soon be born in Pittsburgh, giving her plenty of "family" reasons to be around here. It will be interesting to see whether the new congresswoman is able to establish any kind of identity in the Pittsburgh media market.

Dalhkemper is only the second Democratic woman ever elected from western PA to the U.S. House of Representatives. Vera Buchanan of Pittsburgh was the first back in 1951 when she was elected in a special election to fill her husband's term. Buchanan went on to win two terms in her own right before dying in office of cancer in 1955 -- the first female Member of Congress to die in office. Dahlkemper will take office after a 54-year absence of a Democratic woman from this region in Congress.

Murtha Flexes His Political Muscle:

U.S. Rep. John Murtha (12th CD) was supposed to be in deep, deep trouble. But that was before he called in a lot of chits, raised a lot of money in two weeks, and overwhelmed his opponent, Republican William Russell, with both attack ads and a positive message of accomplishment for western PA. One month ago, Murtha took reelection in his district for granted. Then Russell, who raised a lot of money through a DC-based direct mail agency, exploited the congressman's own words about racism in western PA. A Republican-based poll suggested Russell was only four points behind Murtha, and all of sudden the nation's eyes were on this district.

In the end, Murtha beat Russell by 41,000 votes, winning a healthy 58% of the vote. Russell, who was upfront that he had moved to the district to run against Murtha, could not beat back the carpetbagger charge, especially when Murtha trumpeted all the millions of dollars his seniority has brought into the district. Murtha carried most of the nine counties through which his district stretches, including Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland Counties which were relatively new to the 12th CD.

Altmire Wins Convincingly:

It was hard to find anyone who ever thought U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire (4th CD) was really vulnerable to the Republican he had defeated two years earlier, former U.S. Rep. Melissa Hart. Rematches are always tough in politics, and Hart just didn't have the resources or the issues to plant the seed of "buyer's remorse" among the voters in this suburban Pittsburgh district.

Altmire beat Hart by 39,000 votes, considerably more than the 8,800-vote win he had two years ago, giving the freshman a double-digit victory that probably takes him off the GOP list for some years to come. Altmire beat Hart by nearly 11,000 votes in Allegheny County, 23,000 in Beaver County, 9,000 votes in Lawrence County -- and that was all she wrote!

Murphy Defines a Republican Landslide:

Local Democrats would love to beat U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy (18th CD), but they just can't find a candidate who can unseat this popular, well-funded, and politically savvy Republican. Monroeville businessman Steve O'Donnell thought he was the Democrat who could do the trick, but he ended up losing even worse than Chad Kluko, the Democrat who tried with much less resources in 2006. This time, Murphy -- who ran both positive TV ads on himself and negative attack ads on O'Donnell -- cruised to an impressive 90,000-vote win, 64% to 36%, over the Democrat. O'Donnell didn't come close in any of the four counties that make up the 18th CD, which means that thousands of Democrats (in a district with a 70,000 Democratic registration advantage) voted to give Murphy a fourth term in Congress.


Forget Bonusgate, Democrats Stay in Charge of State House:

It appears that Bonusgate had no impact on the legislative races. In this region, House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese faced a repeat challenger from Republican Greg Hopkins in his 50th legislative district. DeWeese knew what was coming and prepared well. Last February, he was out walking his district in the snow, knocking on doors, a practice he says he continued throughout the campaign. The end result was a larger win for DeWeese than two years ago, more than 2,000 votes this time. DeWeese’s return to Harrisburg does not guarantee him his top ranking spot in the Democratic Party, and concerns about his former chief of staff’s private conversations with the Attorney General about DeWeese’s role in Bonusgate trouble a lot of his colleagues. But DeWeese is nothing if not a survivor. Stay tuned.

The latest report is that the Democrats will not only retain control of the House but also add to their numbers. The current number, 102 Dems to 101 Republicans, could end up being 104 to 99. The Dems lost four seats on Tuesday, including Beaver County Rep. Vince Biancucci (15th LD) who was upset by Republican newcomer Jim Christiana and an open Westmoreland County seat (57th LD occupied by retiring Democrat Tom Tangretti) that Republican Tim Krieger won over Democrat John Boyle. The third Democratic loss was in Elk and Clearfield Counties where incumbent Rep. Dan Surra (75th LD) was upset by Republican Matt Gabler, and the fourth loss was in Bucks County where incumbent Rep. Chris King (142nd LD) was upset by Republican Frank Farry.

These four Democratic losses could have been fatal to state House control had they not picked up six seats in eastern Pennsylvania. Four Dems won open seats: Steve Santarsiero (31st LD in Bucks County), Richard Mirabito (83rd LD in Lycoming County), Paul Drucker (157th LD in Chester County), and Brendan Boyle (170th LD in Philadelphia). Two other Democrats defeated Republican incumbents on Tuesday: Democrat Tom Houghton beat Republican John Lawrence (13th LD in Chester County) and Matt Bradford defeated Jay Moyer (70th LD in Montgomery County).

The most interesting question now is whether the Democrats will be able to reach some consensus on a Democratic Speaker of the House. As the truly savvy know, two years ago the Dems picked Philadelphia Republican Dennis O’Brien to be their speaker because their top Democrat Bill DeWeese could not get the votes from his caucus. O’Brien would love to keep his job, and he’ll keep it as long as 102representatives cannot agree on someone else!

State Senate Goes Even More Republican:

You would think that with the Democratic landslide for Obama, a couple of Dems might have won some state Senate seats. Not so. The Republicans actually increased their control of the Senate, 30 to 20. In two nasty contests in western PA, Republicans managed to keep control of one seat and picked up another. In the 39th SD (Westmoreland County), county commissioner Kim Ward defeated Democratic chiropractor Tony Bompiani by 8,000 votes. Ward replaces retiring state Sen. Bob Regola, a fellow Republican. In the 47th SD (Beaver & Lawrence Counties), Republican Elder Vogel defeated Democrat Jason Petrella by 14,000 votes to replace Democratic state Sen. Gerry LaValle. The stories behind these defeats take too much time to digest, but at the beginning of this campaign year the Dems were favored to win both and managed to blow the opportunity. They were out out-foxed, out-hustled, out-negatived (yes, that too), and out-spent by the GOP, so two senate districts with more Ds than Rs now join the Republican column for four more years.

That’s a quick run-down 24 hours after the election results have come in. I welcome your insights and comments. Now it’s time for all of us to take a break, get some sleep, and start to think about Campaign 2010! Yeehaw!

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