Penn­syl­va­nia Democrats re­store or­der, but west a con­cern

The Citizens' Voice - - LOCAL / STATE / NATION - BY BO­RYS KRAWCZENIUK STAFF WRITER Con­tact the writer: bkrawcze­niuk@timessham­rock. com; 570-348-9147; @BORYSBLOMTT

Gov. Tom Wolf and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey dom­i­nated the two statewide elec­tions Tues­day the way Democrats mostly have won statewide elec­tions for more than 15 years.

They re­lied on a slightly al­tered ver­sion of the method patented by Ed Ren­dell, the for­mer Philadel­phia mayor wildly pop­u­larly in the south­east, when he won his first race for gover­nor in 2002.

The for­mula: Win big in the south­east, where a third of the state’s vot­ers live, out west in Allegheny County, the sec­ond most Demo­cratic county, and fight as hard as pos­si­ble else­where.

In­clud­ing Lack­awanna, Casey, a Scran­ton res­i­dent, won 15 of the state’s 67 coun­ties and only three oth­ers in the north­east, Le­high, Mon­roe and Northamp­ton as he drubbed Repub­li­can U.S. Rep. Lou Bar­letta by 12.8 per­cent­age points, the un­of­fi­cial mar­gin as of Fri­day af­ter­noon. He also won Allegheny, Beaver, Berks, Bucks, Cen­tre, Ch­ester, Dauphin, Delaware, Erie, Mont­gomery and Philadel­phia.

Only three — Allegheny, Beaver and Erie — lie west of State Col­lege, mean­ing Repub­li­cans con­tinue to dom­i­nate western Penn­syl­va­nia coun­ties where Democrats still have reg­is­tra­tion ad­van­tages.

Wolf won the same coun­ties but added Cum­ber­land and Luzerne, where Bar­letta lives, in wal­lop­ing Repub­li­can for­mer state Sen. Scott Wag­ner by an even larger mar­gin, 16.8 per­cent­age points.

“It’s a for­mula that is math­e­mat­i­cally pow­er­ful,” said Christo­pher Borick, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor and poll­ster at Muh­len­berg Col­lege. “It’s the pop­u­la­tion cen­ters of the state and in the case of the south­east — and to a de­gree Allegheny County — some of the grow­ing ar­eas of the state, es­pe­cially the south­east. To dom­i­nate in those ar­eas, it’s pretty much game over. You need some­thing along the line of what Trump did in 2016 — just ex­cep­tional turnout and over­whelm­ing mar­gins in ev­ery place else to just get an ex­tremely close win.”

Trump de­feated Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton in Penn­syl­va­nia by 44,292 votes, or about three-quar­ters of a per­cent­age point.

Borick said he’s un­sure Trump can du­pli­cate that per­for­mance when he runs for re-elec­tion in 2020.

In beat­ing Repub­li­can state At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mike Fisher in 2002, Ren­dell won 18 coun­ties, dom­i­nat­ing in the south­east — Philadel­phia, Bucks, Ch­ester, Delaware and Mont­gomery — and tack­ing on Lack­awanna, Luzerne, Car­bon, Schuylkill, Berks, Le­high and Northamp­ton plus six coun­ties in the west: Allegheny, Beaver, Greene, Lawrence, Mercer and Washington.

That’s a big dif­fer­ence be­tween Ren­dell’s first race and Casey and Wolf this week. Ren­dell couldn’t win Erie in 2002 like Wolf and Casey did, but they couldn’t win any­where else in the west but Allegheny and Beaver.

In 2006, when he beat Repub­li­can U.S. Sen. Rick San­to­rum to win his seat, Casey won 34 coun­ties, in­clud­ing 17 in the west.

The western coun­ties have re­peat­edly trended Repub­li­can as Democrats turned their elec­toral at­ten­tion east. Casey used to worry about it, but it hasn’t hurt him.

Casey and other statewide Demo­cratic can­di­dates have kept win­ning, even with­out what were once tra­di­tional Demo­cratic strongholds out west.

When Repub­li­cans win state races — Tom Corbett for gover­nor in 2010, Sen. Pat Toomey in 2010 and 2016 — they win by hold­ing their coun­ties and pick­ing off some of the Democrats’ eastern strongholds.

In 2010, Corbett clob­bered Demo­cratic can­di­date Dan Ono­rato, who won only four coun­ties and lost Ch­ester, Bucks, Le­high, Northamp­ton and Allegheny, even though he was Allegheny’s county ex­ec­u­tive. Corbett also lives in Allegheny County.

In 2010, Toomey first won his seat over Demo­crat Joe Ses­tak by win­ning Bucks, and eastern coun­ties like Le­high, where he lives, Northamp­ton next door, Car­bon and Mon­roe. In 2016, Toomey, with Trump’s help, won Bucks again as well as Ch­ester, Northamp­ton, Car­bon and Luzerne. Clin­ton won Philadel­phia and its four sub­ur­ban coun­ties, but lost Northamp­ton, Car­bon and Luzerne and didn’t win any­where but Allegheny in the west.

Casey said he doesn’t think Democrats can keep win­ning just by re­ly­ing on the cur­rent for­mula.

“I think we have to con­tinue to so­lid­ify our vote in ur­ban and sub­ur­ban com­mu­ni­ties, but you have to keep work­ing those coun­ties that have been vot­ing Repub­li­can be­cause some­times it takes a lot of work just to keep them where they are,” he said.

For in­cum­bents, that means work­ing the coun­ties in non-elec­tion years.

Since Trump’s elec­tion, Casey said he has vis­ited all 67 coun­ties once and 58 coun­ties at least twice.

“You just have to keep do­ing that and keep talk­ing about is­sues they’re strug­gling with, whether it’s wages or ru­ral broad­band or the opi­oid cri­sis,” he said. “Our vote in ’18 was bet­ter in West­more­land County, for ex­am­ple.”

In 2012, Casey lost the county to the late Repub­li­can Tom Smith by more than 15 points. This week, he lost there by only about 10.6 points.

None­the­less, the key for Democrats re­mains in the cities and sub­urbs, a na­tion­wide trend.

In 2012, Casey beat Smith in the four Philadel­phia sub­ur­ban coun­ties by 12.8 points. This week, he won them by 24.7 points. He won Allegheny, where Pitts­burgh is, by more than 20 points in 2012, and by 33 points this year. The huge turnout helped.

“Peo­ple were vot­ing like it was a pres­i­den­tial year,” he said.

Casey doesn’t think Democrats will make much progress in 2020 at­tract­ing Repub­li­can-lean­ing Democrats be­cause Trump will be on the bal­lot, but he thinks Trump should worry about hold­ing on to Penn­syl­va­nia.

“If I were Don­ald Trump, I would be very wor­ried about the Philadel­phia sub­ur­ban vote and their turnout as well as Allegheny,” Casey said.

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