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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

East is East, and West is West

Posted By on Wed, Oct 29, 2008 at 1:48 PM

There's an old saying that Pennsylvania is Philadelphia on one side, Pittsburgh on the other, and Alabama in between.

That may be giving Pittsburgh too much credit.

Increasingly, Pennsylvania is Philadelphia on one side ... and then everything else. So if you feel like everyone on your street has reverted to some political cro-magnon state, it's not just you: western Pennsylvania really does appear to be getting dumber. But Barack Obama stands a pretty good chance of winning the state anyway. In fact, he arguably stands a better chance than some of his predecessors.

Some friends of mine are getting a little panicky at the sheer amount of right-wing derangement that they encounter in bars, in grocery-store parking lots, and so on. Since this is the only part of Pennsylvania most of us see often -- and since people assume that the rural portions of the state are filled with nutjobs -- they're getting worried the whole state might be like that. (Polls like this won't help anyone's digestion either. H/t to our friends at the P-G's Early Returns blog.) 

Far be it from me to counsel complacence. Even when I've been known to practice it. The Dear Leader -- as we media types call Obama when we're not suppressing his ties to William Ayers -- is urging the troops not to get cocky. But we shouldn't panic either. Even if everyone in your family or on your block HAS gone off the deep end. 

One ego-deflating truth of statewide political contests is this: the Pittsburgh region matters less and less with every election cycle ... which is one reason Democrats do better and better. 

The Brookings Institute has broken down the "political geography" of Pennsylvania: You'll find a road map here, with a link to a full report.  The bottom line, though, is that the state serves as a bridge between East Coast and Rust Belt -- and the East Coast portions are getting stronger as the Rust Belt wanes. 

Brookings argues that since 1988, "the growing eastern part of the state [has swung] toward the Democrats, producing four straight presidential victories. ... Countering this swing, the declining western part of the state has been moving toward the GOP." But on balance, the math favors the Dems.

Analyst Tom Ferrick here also suggests that Philadelphia -- and the surrounding counties -- are really all that matters on Nov. 4:

There simply aren’t enough McCain votes left in the rest of the state to overcome the 550,000-vote mega-margin Obama will get in the southeast on Election Day.

The bottom line: Obama wins Pennsylvania with ease.

Of course, it's not fun to realize we're being eclipsed by Philadelphia. The upside, though, is realizing that mouth-breathing Jim Quinn fan in the next cubicle is becoming less and less relevant right alongside you. 

Another thought to calm yourself with. If you've been encountering any racial animus, console yourself with the possibility that bigotry in Pennsylvania may be less widespread than you may think. There were rural counties of the state that were quite comfortable giving their votes to Lynn Swann back when he ran for governor in 2006. In some heavily Republican counties -- like Crawford, where I lived for a few years -- Swann actually got more votes than the notoriously white Rick Santorum, who was also running for re-election.

Again: I'm not suggesting anyone take victory for granted. McCain has tried to come up with an "October Surprise" almost every day this October. None of them have stuck, but had Ashley Todd's story broken the night before the election, who knows what effect it might have had? 

But if complacency saps our energy, so does despair. When you're out door-knocking, or arguing with relatives, or gouging a letter "B" into someone's face, you may think you're all alone. You may feel like your efforts have no meaning ... or that they might not even show up on surveillance cameras. At those times, remember that you've got a friend in Pennsylvania -- even if it's on the other side of the state. 

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