Chris Palko's blog

Winds of Change in Massachusetts

Scott Brown's victory last Tuesday was probably the greatest political upset in recent memory.  A Republican Party that was pronounced all but dead and an ideological movement that was said to have no appeal outside of Souther white guys was able to win Ted Kennedy's Senate seat based on the explicit disavowal of his greatest policy wish, a day before the one year anniversary of Barack Obama's inauguration.  While the result of the race was based mostly on a rejection of the Obama administration's health care plan, it is worth considering how much can be attributed to the state itself.  It is more interesting than it would appear at first because, secretly, Massachusetts isn't quite as liberal as it used to be.

The Avant-Garde of American Liberalism

As late as the 1950s, Massachusetts' Congressional delegation was majority Republican.  But what occurred over the past 100 years was a demographic transition where, over the course of decades, different areas of the state passed from a Yankee majority (and Republican) to an ethnic Catholic majority (and Democratic).  This transition happened at the turn of the last century in Boston, in the Merrimack Valley in the 1910s, Worcester, Springfield, and other industrial cities during the New Deal, the South Shore and university areas in the 50s, and the North Shore, immediate Boston suburbs, and rural Yankeedom in the 1970s.  The watershed year for the state overall was 1952, in which the Senate race pitted the top Yankee family, the Lodges, against the leading Irish Catholic family, the Kennedys.  Old Yankee Massachusetts died when JFK was elected Senator.

The twin pillars upon which Massachusetts liberalism was constructed were the massive, impressive higher education system and the Kennedy family.  Due to its strong commitment to education, Massachusetts had always been in the vanguard of promoting left-leaning change.  But when the middle-class began to flood the higher education system following World War II, a critical mass of liberal college graduates was reached.  These men and women transformed their old line Yankee communities towards embracing the culture of universities.

The Kennedys cast a longer shadow over Massachusetts than any other political dynasty in any other state ever.  There's no need to go into the whole Kennedy legend here, but its real political effect was to put the white, ethnic working-class behind liberalism in a way that didn't develop anywhere else in America.  While their long lost cousins were participating in Hard Hat riots and cheering on Archie Bunker, they lined up behind 60s liberalism.  The only difference between the Boston Brahmins and Joe from Worcester was the locution by which they expressed the common liberal faith.

Beginning in the 1970s, Massachusetts was the most left-wing state in the nation.  It was famous for being the only state to vote for the doomed George McGovern.  From 1960 to 2004, there were 12 presidential elections.  In those year Massachusetts ranked as the following in Democratic percentage of the vote: 3rd, 3rd, 2nd, 1st, 5th, 22nd (John Anderson won 15 percent, his best state; was Reagan's 3rd worst state), 2nd, 4th, 6th, 1st, 3rd, 1st.  In this time, three Bay Staters were the Democratic standard bearer.

The level of success Republicans had at the governor's level paradoxically was damaging because it wedded them to an outdated Rockefeller / small-town Yankee hybrid Republicanism instead of a Northeastern middle-class conservatism.  It seemed impressive that William Weld won election twice, until you consider that he ran to the left of his 1990 opponent.  Weld even won Cambridge, which gave Coakley over 84 percent of the vote.  The conservative-moderate coalition that would represent the most viable way for a center-right candidate to win did not form, leaving the party with a shallow base.

When revulsion with the Gingrich-era Republican Party hit in the mid-90s, Rockefeller Republicanism was finished, with no suburban / working-class conservative element waiting in the wings.  This led to a crippled party with no Congressional seats and a veto-proof Democratic majority in the state legislature.  Thus, the Republican governor wasn't that effective as a break on liberal policies.  This led to another decade of Massachusetts leading liberalism their way.  Republican registration dropped to between 10-15 percent of the voter population.

Signs of Change

However, Massachusetts is not as liberal as it used to be, at least in comparison to other states.  In an age when liberalism is identified with youth and minorities, Massachusetts is a relatively old and white state.  The Scott Brown triumph was presaged by the Jim Ogonowski campaign in 2007.  In a very bad politcal climate, Ogonowski came within six points of winning a Congressional seat.  It's easy to imagine he would've won in better times for Republicans.  In 2008, despite the Kennedy clan essentially appointing Obama as their heir, Hillary Clinton won the state's Democratic primary by 15 points.  Come general election time, Massachusetts fell to only the 8th best Obama state.  While Kerry was a native, it was very interesting to see no Democratic trend during four years of strong Democratic electoral success.

There are encouraging signs that slowly--very slowly, control of the party is being wrested from 'me-too' bluebloods to moderate conservatives.  Every statewide winner in the past twenty years has been a shade more to the right of their predecessor.  Paul Cellucci was more conservative than Weld, Romney was more conservative than Cellucci, and Brown ran as more conservative than the Massachusetts Mitt.  It is striking how conservative a platform Brown ran on.  His two main themes were explicit oppositon to Obamacare and taking strong measures against terrorism.  His success means that there is no reason for any Massachusetts Republican to shy away from taking conservative stands on these issues.

Scott Brown's election may be nearly as important in ending the Kennedy mythology as in damaging health care reform.  The end of the Kennedy legend means that the electorate can finally adapt to modern left / right politics.  The amount of middle-class and lower middle-class whites who are Democrats is unnatural based on current party demographics.  Shifting these voters over to the right would finally secure the GOP on a firm base.  Massachusetts would remain a definite blue state, but it wouldn't be as overwhelmingly Democrat.  It would look more like Connecticut than Vermont.


One useful measure of the results map is to figure out where Republicans can't win.  If Brown couldn't do reasonably well in an area, then no Republican has a shot.  Coakley ran not much behind 2008 levels in the Berkshires and the immediate Boston area.  These areas are dominated by ideologically committed white liberals.  They are unwinnable for a center-right party.

Brown's bases of support were in the center of the state, and the North and South Shores.  In MA-5, in which Ogonowski nearly won, Brown won every single city and town.  The district revolves around old industrial cities like Lowell and Lawrence and outer suburbs of Boston of the type that were strong Brown boosters.  Hopefully Republicans look into challenging Tsongas once again.

The Worcester area holds promise.  The second city is much more centrist than Boston.  Brown earned over 47 percent of the vote in the City of Worcester.  He then ran up huge percentages in the surrounding towns and countryside.  This is an area more engaged in industry and small business than high-prestige jobs.  The type of voters Republicans need to convert to full time Republicans are heavily concentrated here.

The South Shore was Brown's best area in the state.  It is the most Irish part of the most Irish of states.  It contains a large middle-class with blue-collar values even if most are not blue-collar themselves.  The receding legacy of the Kennedy family could free these voters up to become relatively Republican.   The 10th district, based on the South Shore, was likely Brown's best Congressional district.  The district has a PVI of D+5, the most favorable in the state.

i think there is some hope for conservatives in the state.  You can't over-interpret the results and declare Massachusetts competitive.  This really was a perfect storm of very favorable national conditions, a very good Republican candidate, and perhaps the worst major campaign in modern times for the Democrat.  But the victory nonetheless reveals a way forward for conservatives within a state that had been permanently written off by Republicans.  It is realistic to believe that a solid center-right candidate can win in some places.  The camapign showed that there is little penalty, and a lot more to gain, by running somewhat more to the right of previous Massachusetts Republicans (but not too far right).  The task now is to build on this potential breakthrough and expand the reach of the party. 

2010 Predictions

Since we are about to come to the end of the year (and decade), I think it is worthwhile to put some predictions down before anything happens in 2010.  I hope to hear some of yours in the comments:

1. 2010 will be a wave election, reminiscent of 1994.  At this moment, Rothenberg Political Report estimates that Republicans will pick up 15-20 seats in the House, and an unspecified small gain in the Senate.  Charlie Cook predicts solid pickups for the GOP, but somewhat less than taking back the House.  I'm inclined to think that the turnover will be on the higher side.  The popular outrage over the unpopular health care plan and the seeming disregard for public opinion will create the conditions for a conservative populist uprising.  One thing to remember about 1994 was that it was the election that finished the realignment in the South, something that is no longer much of a concern (beyond a few stray Blue Dogs).  For similar gains (54 seats), Republicans will have to win seats in areas like the Rocky Mountains, the Midwest, and Suburban Northeast.  Republicans need 40 seats to win back the House.  I think the odds of that are 50-50.

2.  The epicenter of the wave will be Arkansas.  There is no state in America that John McCain ran so well compared to George W. Bush's 2004 performance.  Arkansas was 3 percent more Republican than the nation in 2004; it was 13 points more Republican than the nation in 2008.  Arkansas was always a traditional hard scrabble Jacksonian Democrat state, economically populist and socially traditional.  Unlike most Southern states, there is still a conservative Democrat presence on the state and local level.  Currently both Senators and 3 of 4 Representatives are Democrats, putting them in a precarious position in a state shifting sharply to the right.  It's three Democrats hold seats that are R+5, R+7, and R+8.  Blanche Lincoln is trailing essentially annonymous state legislators across the board.  I think any serious Republican challenger could beat any Democrat in Arkansas next year.  Arkansas in 2010 will be like Texas in 1994 and Georgia in 2002, the year in which the realignment on the local level is completed.

3.  There could be another party defection or two.  Parker Griffith's switch today is a rare thing, but a toxic political environment for Blue Dog Democrats could tempt some to switch parties.  Would you really be shocked if Bobby Bright (D-AL) or another Southern Democrat flip to save their seats?  There were a series of party switches after 1994, though the South is more solidly Republican now than back then.

4.  Moderate suburban counties will swing back to Republicans.  In 2009 elections, we saw a definite swing towards the GOP in crucial suburban counties.  Bob McDonnell won the heavily populated Fairfax County in Virginia, while Chris Christie won Middlesex and Burlington Counties.  Less noticed were statewide judicial elections in Pennsylvania and county elections in New York State, where Republicans won competitive elections in suburban Philadelphia and New York City.  All of these were counties that the Republican Party was supposed to be incapable of winning, possibly forever.  That narrative didn't even last a year.  I think we will see some surprising successes in places Republicans may have written off in past years.

5.  The Democratic agenda will be practically paralyzed after the health care fiasco.  The health care "reform" process has taken over a half of a year.  Anyone remember when Obama set a deadline of the end of July for a health care deal?  I think no one in the White House realized how difficult and drawn out this process would be.  Now, Obama's first year has passed and he only got around to addressing two items on his agenda.  He hasn't addressed the major problem of unemployment (the stimulus didn't do that effectively).  My guess for what Obama will do is to focus more on fixing the economy (as he should) and I think he will go after the immigration issue.  The White House will do this because it has divided the Republican Party in the past and it needs something to stop the Republican momentum.  Its not a bad gambit, but I think immigration will be different than 2006-2007 because Republicans are no longer in power and have no obligation to a president with a different agenda.  It could actually be divisive towards the Democratic Party.  Immigration cuts along elite/populist lines more than left/right.  I think Dems may be miscalculating if this is the case.

6.  Marco Rubio wins the Florida Senate primary and the general election.  As of right now, the Rubio-Crist primary is about tied, which is a massive upset considering Crist's high name ID.  Look for this race to open up wide in Rubio's favor early in the year, prompting Crist to make one of two choices: drop out and try to re-enter the Governor's race or change parties and win the Democratic primary easily over the hapless Kendrick Meek.  I'm not familiar with Florida election law, so I don't know when primary races have to be finalized.  While Crist is less to the left than Arlen Specter was, he evidences little principle, and a party switch into an easy primary victory wouldn't surprise me.  But I think in either case Rubio wins and becomes the face of the November 2010 victories.

Republicans' Short Bench Problem

One of the overlooked downsides to the electoral wipeout the Republican Party has endured in the past two election cycles is how those elections have drastically shrunk the amount of Republicans who are nationally prominent.  Without the Presidency, and the loss of Governors, Senators, and Representatives, there aren't very many potential leaders left among Republicans.  Also, even the most loyal party man surely isn't enamored with every Republican elected official.  What you hear these days is a cry wondering where Republican leadership is.  Debates about who is the "leader" of the Republican Party are distracting at this point, but there seems to be a paucity of those who could even be in the discussion.  Republicans have a short bench problem, which hurts their ability to have national leadership in Congress, in the states, and in the future, in the White House.


In the 1990s, Republican Governors (along with some big city mayors) were instrumental in making public policy changes that would eventually be successful at the national level.  Part of the reason why Bush's 2000 campaign was successful was because he made himself the custodian of the achievements that Tommy Thompson, John Engler, Rudy Giuliani, and even Bush as Governor achieved.

There are 22 Republican Governors at the moment.  What is more distressing is how few innovative leaders there are among Republican Governors.  Many Republican Governors are governors of small Plains or Rocky Mountain States that are invisible on a national stage.  There is surprising vitality in New England with three GOP governors, but they are generally too moderate for the national Republican Party.  Two standouts who deserve some national attention are John Hoeven from North Dakota and Donald Carcieri of Rhode Island.  Hoeven was reelected last year with 74 percent of the vote when McCain only received 53 percent.  National Republicans have begged him to challenge the state's two Democratic Senators.  Carcieri somehow managed to be elected twice as an actual conservative in one of the most liberal states in the country.  Neither is of Presidential timber, but they could be excellent future Senatorial candidates or national Republican voices.

Some Governors have been failures (Schwarzenegger), some are good for their state but too moderate nationally (other New England governors, perhaps Crist), some have just been installed in the past year, and at least one is too busy in Argentina to be taken seriously.  I would say there is a handful of top tier Republican Governors at this point.  Bobby Jindal, by his own acknowledgment, is too green to make any moves yet.  John Huntsman is certainly a formidable figure, but he also is a more long-term hope considering he will be Ambassador to China for the next few years.  Haley Barbour has generally been a successful Governor of Mississippi and could fill the Southern slot in a primary.  Tim Pawlenty has been a rare blue state Republican in recent years.  I think he is likely to be a 2012 candidate and would be considered a top contender if he ran.  The crown jewel, in my opinion, is Mitch Daniels, Governor of Indiana.  He's probably the best Republican politican in America right now.  Earning nearly 60 percent of the vote last year when Obama won Indiana indicates he has some crossover appeal.  He claims that he is not interested in seeking higher office, which is a real shame.


Republicans have lost 15 Senate seats in the past three years.  This attrition clears out opportunites for Republicans to come up with national leaders.  The 40 Republicans left are bereft of national figures.  McConnell is a master floor manager but no national spokesman.  McCain is a real leader, but his national campaign days are over.  The GOP caucus is dominated by Southern good ol' boys and small state senators.  Guys from Wyoming or Idaho won't find national traction and the good ol' boys are better vote jockeys than communicators.

I would say the following Senators are, or could be, good national leaders for Republicans: John Kyl, Judd Gregg, Tom Coburn, Jim DeMint, John Thune, and Bob Corker.  Coburn and DeMint already are good conservative voices in the Senate, but would never be Presidential material.  Kyl does a good job on Judiciary, but is somewhat in the shadow of McCain.  To my mind Gregg has been the most articulate Senator in the past year, but he always indicates that he wants to retire.  Corker is still a freshman, but was the point man for GOP efforts on the car bailouts.  Thune is also a freshman, but is the youngest Republican Senator by a mile.  There are virtually no 2012 Presidential candidates in the Senate.  I believe this is why Ensign was trying to run for President before his affair was disclosed.  Of the entire Republican Senatorial membership, I could only see Thune having a serious campaign in 2012.


Members of the House of Representatives are not national leaders (Speaker of the House exempted).  Impressive Representatives like Paul Ryan and Mike Pence would need to become Senators or Governors to have a real shot at the Presidency.  If Jack Kemp couldn't win the nomination from the House, then I don't think any non-Speaker would be able to.

Of course, there are still the retired political figures and those who were candidates last time.  Romney seems a near lock to run again and would have to be considered the frontrunner.  Huckabee will never be President, but he may run, especially if no Southerner is in the race.  I think Palin's resignation indicates she won't run in 2012, but she still is young and already has a big national following.  I don't think we'll see another Wesley Clark/Fred Thompson fantasy candidate next time.


The Republican bench is very thin at this point.  If you are looking towards 2012, I would predict right now the only serious candidates who will run are Romney, Pawlenty, and Barbour.  Daniels would certainly be in that grouping if he decided to run.  Sure, you would get the Tom Tancredos of the world running no shot campaigns, but those candidacies are irrelevant.  I think beyond 2012 Jindal, Huntsman, Thune, and perhaps Palin 2.0 would be serious Presidential candidates.  There really is a leadership vacuum in the Republican Party right now.  A smart, ambitious Republican could certainly find an easy path to the top.

The Relevance of Newspaper Endorsements

For a while, I thought that newspaper endorsements were irrelevant, that most people didn't care what a bunch of editorial staff writers thought.  For general election Presidential contests, I think this is still true.  This is the case in most state and local general elections as well.

But I do think that newspaper endorsements are valuable in primary elections, depending upon the ideological orientation of the editorial page.  The Washington Post's endorsement of Creigh Deeds may have been the spark that got him the momentum to wallop Terry McAuliffe.  It's no secret that the Post has a liberal editorial page (though less reflexively liberal than the New York Times).  For its Northern Virginia readers, especially in the Democratic enclaves of Arlington and Alexandria, the Post is a very influential political and cultural authority.  Previous to the Post endorsement, Deeds was sort of an obscure, rural Democrat who would seem to have real problems competing in NoVa with McLean based McAuliffe and Alexandria native Moran.  But once the Post gave their seal of approval to Deeds, he became acceptable to NoVa liberals, not to mention a source of curiosity as reflected in the Google search spike Patrick has highlighted.  I guess Democratic primary voters liked what they saw in Deeds.

I think a comparable analogue in recent years was the Manchester Union-Leader's endorsement of John McCain in December 2007.  As you may recall, McCain was left for dead in the summer of 2007 after the failure of Amnesty part two.  McCain never left the race and changed to a scaled down campaign.  After problems with the Giuliani campaign began showing up, McCain had the opportunity to win the 40-45% of the Republican primary voters that shifted between Giuliani and McCain.  Starting in November, McCain began coming back from the dead as many voters were willing to give McCain another chance in light of other campaigns falling apart.

The Union-Leader is perhaps the most influential conservative editorial page in the country behind the Wall Street Journal.  This outsized influence was due to New Hampshire's first in the nation primary and the low tax advocacy by the Loeb family, owners of the paper.  To put it mildly, the Union-Leader has credibility with New Hampshire conservatives.  So when they came out for McCain, it elevated him to serious contender in New Hampshire, and soon after, the rest of the country.

The common element with both endorsements is that they were in primary elections and they were made by papers with well known ideological slants.  Their endorsements were influential because members of each party's ideological base trusted that paper's editorial page as an arbiter of good political sense.  By contrast, the Union-Leader's general election endorsement was virtually meaningless, considering that anyone who likes the Union-Leader was already voting for McCain, while those who didn't wouldn't pay attention anyway.  I suspect that the Post's nearly certain general election endorsement will not have much of an impact either.

The Implications of the Specter Defection

I can't really express much outrage over Sen. Arlen Specter's decision to change his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat.  He grew up as a Democrat, but became a Republican in the mid-1960s to run for Philadelphia District Attorney.  Specter is the archtype of the career politician.  For better or for worse, he sticks his finger in the air and determines his beliefs on that basis.  So I really don't care about the whole psychological drama of what Arlen Specter is thinking any given moment, because he is usually reacting, not thinking (this can be for good or for bad, by the way).

What I care more about is what this means.  It's certainly not everyday that a United States Senator changes their party.  It is big news when it occurs, and deservedly so.  You expect a senator to be among the strongest partisans in the country.  If that's not the case, we should examine what this means.

What I am most interested in is whether Specter's ideological orientation will change.  I don't think he has any real ideological beliefs, but it should be worth watching if he stays in the middle like he was as a Republican, or he will pull a Jim Jeffords, going from a moderate to a down the line liberal.  If he stays the same, the change is pretty meaningless.  If he shifts left, then it is a real loss for conservatives.

Of course, this clears the way for Democrats to have a Parliamentary style power.  If they get 60 votes to invoke cloture (Franken will be a Senator soon), then there will be no real check on whatever Democrats want to do.  There hasn't been this sort of undivided control since the Great Society Congress in 1965-66.  We could expect the modern equivalent of the passage of Great Society legislation.

This does have real significance because it speaks to a concern about the Republican Party in 2009: How can it have any reach beyond the conservative base?  I'm a conservative.  I don't need to be convinced to vote Republican.  But I realize that I am not like most people.  The majority of Americans will consider voting for both parties to some degree.  In the past 4-5 years, the persuadable majority have been persuaded to stay away from Republicans in masse.  I think the reason for this is the failure of the conservative movement under the Bush Presidency.  It may take us a while to get beyond what Jon Henke quite accurately termed a movement failure.

CPAC Notes: Day One

Today is the first day of CPAC at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington DC.  I attended today from roughly 9:30 to 1:30.  Here are my observations:

  • Most interesting development of the day.  Both Paul Ryan and Steve Moore advocated restoring the gold standard.  Before today, I didn't know of mainstream "movement" type conservatives who were advocating fixing the currency.  I guess the influence of Ron Paul is growing.
  • Michael Barone drew upon his extensive knowledge of the political realm to offer advice on what conservatives need to do to win again.  One obvious focus was on the youth vote.  Another idea was to exploit the tensions within the Obama coalition--a top-bottom coalition with varying goals and priorities.  If a new Obama proposal to repeal tax deductions on charitable donations is passed, then it would adversely affect the affluent voters that gave Obama strong support.
  • I didn't really care for Saul Anuzis' quip that there are two kinds of people, "Democrats and Americans."  That approach is surely the road back to majority status.  The rest of his talk was fine, but that tone will only appeal to the already converted.
  • 27 year old Illinois Congressman Aaron Schock was very impressive.  He already could artiiculate his beliefs better than many long time veterans.  He also advocated for expanding conservative outreach to places we don't go, like black and Hispanic communities.  He should have a bright future.
  • Last speech I saw was Mike Pence, who got the crowd on its feet the most because he hit the applause lines very hard.  There will be no backing down on Pence and the House Republican caucus's part.  He said that "Republicans will be faithful and loyal in our opposition.
  • I also had the pleasure of meeting Rob Willington, director of Rebuild the Party, in line at Chipotle.  It is nice to meet people who you only see online.

The next two days will be busier, so I imagine there will be better things to report back.


A Tale of Two Metropolitan Areas: Part Three

Lessons Learned

After completing Parts One and Two about how Pennsylvania's two major metropolitan areas are shifting politically, there are some lessons we can learn from the past election.

Republicans have precious few areas where they can run up large margins.  One thing I consistently found looking at municipal level data across two divergent metropolitan areas is a lack of high population areas that Republicans dominate.  It is true that Republicans excel in some areas.  But they are either sparsely populated rural areas or exurban developments without significant population yet.  By contrast, Democrats can count on many highly populated places to give them large margins.  Democrats have traditionally been the party of the cities, so it is no surprise that they run up huge vote totals there.  Republicans were traditionally able to counter this by similarly large rural margins, and impressive suburban totals.  These days however, the ability for Republicans to win big votes in the suburbs isn't there.

The Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas are stand-ins for two types of political regions and how their politics are shifting.  The Philadelphia area represents the swing of the college-educated and non-whites towards Democrats.  The same phenomenon has happened in Northern Virginia, Long Island, suburban Chicago, St. Louis County, and even Orange County.  If you wonder why Republicans are shut out nationally, it is because their candidates are receiving 45 percent of the vote in Nassau County, 40 percent in Fairfax County, and 42 percent in Dallas County.  McCain barely broke 50 percent in Orange County, the living embodiment of Reagan's America!

The Pittsburgh area represents the swing of non-college educated whites towards Republicans.  Western Pennsylvania is an ancillary part of the one section of the country that has moved towards Republicans, the Interior South.  Western Pennsylvania is quite obviously not part of the South, and most of the areas I described in Part Two wouldn't be classified as part of Appalachia (I left those counties out).  But it does share some cultural affinities with the South.  After all, who was Obama talking about when he made his "bitter clinger" speech?  He should have known that even prosperous suburbanites in suburban Pittsburgh go hunting.  This countercyclical direction reminds me of Western Pennsylvania's turn towards national Democrats such as Mondale and Dukakis, even as they were getting slaughtered nationwide.

What is really disquieting for the future is that, at least in 2008, the Republican Party is on the losing side of demographic change.  On paper, you would prefer to have the Philadelphia Metro area swinging your way rather than the Pittsburgh Metro area coming your way.  Part of this preference is based upon the Philadelphia area's greater diversity.  Compare the non-white population in each of these counties in 2000:

Philadelphia Metro:

  • Delaware County: 21.2%
  • Montgomery County: 15.6%
  • Bucks County: 12.5%
  • Chester County: 14.5%

Pittsburgh Metro:

  • Allegheny County: 16.5%
  • Westmoreland County: 3.9%
  • Butler County: 2.8%
  • Washington County: 5.3%
  • Beaver County: 8.2%

Keep in mind that in the interceding nine years, these percentages have only increased in Metro Philadelphia, and have not declined in Metro Pittsburgh.  The era of monolithically white suburbs not only is over, but has been over for some time.  The Republican Party has not adapted to that reality.  It has only been able to keep pace in areas with little diversity.  By some measures, the Pittsburgh area has the lowest percentage of Hispanics of any major metropolitan area in the country.  My high school, right north of the city limits of Pittsburgh, was 95 percent white.  A similar school in suburban Philadelphia would certainly have more minorities.

In the Philadelphia area, the Republican Party does best with those who are middle-class and above.  This is to say that once you reach a certain income level, roughly $50,000 household income in 2000, income cannot predict how you will vote.  There is great fluctuation between different communities, with some municipalities at a certain income level casting 60 percent of their votes for McCain and others giving him 30 percent.  A better way to view the Republican Party in the Philadelphia area is to view it as the The Party of the Periphery, only strong in semi-rural areas outside most suburban development.

In the Pittsburgh area, the Republican Party is strongest with the upper-middle class.  Western Pennsylvania follows a more traditional pattern where the more money you have, generally the more likely you are to be Republican.  It is not quite as steep a divide as it would have been 50 years ago and rich areas like Fox Chapel are immune to this, but Pittsburgh's suburban bourgeoisie is instinctively Republican.  In Allegheny County, McCain earned over 60 percent of the vote in the following municipalities: Pine Township, Sewickley Heights, Richland Township, Marshall Township, Franklin Park, and Bradford Woods.  With the exception of wealthy Sewickley Heights, these areas are all certainly upper-middle class.  They are also all adjoining to each other, part of either the North Allegheny or Pine-Richland School Districts in the North Hills.  Compare them to communities of similar incomes in the Philadelphia area; for instance, the municipalities making up the Council Rock School District.  The five municipalities that comprise Council Rock gave McCain the following percentages: 57 percent, 53 percent, 46 percent, 52 percent, and 43 percent.  While a series of neighboring communities in the Pittsburgh area votes more or less the same, a similar set of communities in suburban Philadelphia show little coherence in their voting patterns.

There is not one simple strategy for Republicans to reconnect with Pennsylvania voters.  Some think that the party needs to moderate on social issues, because they are killing GOP prospects in moderate suburbs.  In the case of the Philadelphia suburbs, I think this is true.  But outside of Southeastern Pennsylvania, Republican stands on social issues gain more votes than they lose.  Pennsylvania is a very open state on cultural issues, with any non-radical/reactionary approach being electorally viable.  Similarly, some conservatives advocate a move towards a very populist Republican Party that has no truck for "elites".  It would be a mass movement of "the people", meaning non-educated professionals.  This also wouldn't help, as it would finish off the Republican Party in the Philadelphia area while perhaps reversing the Republican advantage among Pittsburgh suburbanites.  A Republican Party that draws its base more narrow will only create a larger Democratic Party.  A Republican Revival is not a simple matter of ditching issues or eschewing certain constituencies.

What I take out of the past election is that the traditional shape of Pennsylvania politics is gone.  For over a century, Chester County was part of any winning Republican coalition.  The idea that a Republican could lose Chester County and even be remotely competitive would've been fanciful.  Likewise, since the New Deal, Beaver County was part of a Democratic winning coalition.  Only perceived radicals like McGovern could prevent residents from punching their tickets for Democrats.  But traditonal allegiances have been shed.  It seems as though certain groups of people can never be part of the same party in a two-party system (The South and New England have never been together in any party system).  Now, the Republican Party in Pennsylvania has gone from being the party of The Philadelphia Story to the party of The Deerhunter.


A Tale of Two Metropolitan Areas: Part Two

The Pittsburgh Metro Area

Allegheny County: Population (2000): 1,281,666, McCain 2008 Percentage: 41.6%

Allegheny County is the most populous county in Western Pennsylvania, containing the City of Pittsburgh and the majority of its suburbs.  Pittsburgh has roughly one-fourth of the county's population and because of it, Allegheny County is almost always Democratic.  McCain did slightly worse than Bush in 2004, but only by about one percentage point.  Pittsburgh has been unthinkingly Democratic since the Great Depression and nothing in the future looks to change that.

The longest developed and most densely populated corridor of the county is the area to the east of the city, and is mostly a Democratic area.  Penn Hills, the second largest municipality in Southwestern Pennsylvania, is nearly 2 to 1 Democratic.  Monroeville is a middle-class suburb that Obama narrowly won.  The most Republican part of this area is Plum Township, a partly rural area that gave McCain 56 percent of the vote.

To the direct south is the Monongahela Valley, perhaps the embodiment of the Rust Belt.  There are river communities that have less than half the residents they had fifty years ago.  The Mon Valley went in two different directions in the past election.  The municipalities with large African-American populations were among the places that moved towards Obama.  Places like Duquesne, McKeesport, Clairton, and Braddock only increased their heavy Democratic tilt.  But other municipalities went the other way.  Some of the greatest Republican increases occured in the Mon Valley.  McCain ran nearly nine points better than Bush did in 2004 in Port Vue and eight points better in Glassport.  There has been a noticable change among some in the Mon Valley.

West of the Mon Valley is the South Hills, Pittsburgh's southern suburbs.  These suburbs are on balance Republican, but with definite variations.  The suburbs adjoining to Pittsburgh, like Mt. Lebanon and Baldwin, are narrowly Democratic.  Mt. Lebanon is a distressing case for Republicans, as it is one of the richest suburbs in the area.  To the south, middle-class Bethel Park gave McCain about 55 percent of the vote.  Upper St. Clair, which is very affluent, is still strongly Republican, but did experience a bit of a decline since last election.  One success story was in Jefferson Hills, a middle-class suburb that experienced a four percent bump for McCain.

Continuing clockwise, the western suburbs are the least developed part of the county, containing solid middle-class suburbs in the shadows of Pittsburgh International Airport.  Like most of Pittsburgh's suburbs, they are marginally Republican.  The story here is how static the vote was in the area.  The largest suburbs, like Moon, Findlay, and North Fayette Townships were within a point of 2004 voting patterns.  McCain did show slight improvement in Robinson Township and had a strong increase in Kennedy Township, a first-tier suburb.

Finally, there is the large swath of land north of the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers.  There is a northwest quadrant composed of river towns and the millionaire colony in Sewickley Heights.  Sewickley Heights gave McCain 66 percent of the vote, a great total until you realize that Bush received 71 percent four years ago.  The river towns are now swing territory, which is a Republican accomplishment in itself.  They showed no real trend as compared to 2004.  A similar northeast quadrant is based around the baronial estates of Fox Chapel and other smaller communities.  Fox Chapel, the wealthiest community in Pennsylvania west of the Main Line, was home to the biggest Republican decline over the past four years.  There was a near eight point drop-off in four years.  This is in line with the general Republican decline with the wealthy.

Most of the population north of the rivers is part of the North Hills.  The first-tier suburbs of Ross and Shaler are slightly Republican and showed no change over four years.  The farther out, upper-middle class suburbs are more Republican.  For example, Pine and Marshall Townships are over 60 percent Republican, but were about three percent less Republican than 2004.  Here, we do see some slippage among the affluent like everywhere else in the country, but not as dramatic as the Philadelphia area.

A Tale of Two Metropolitan Areas: Part One

The Philadelphia Metro Area

For over a century, the Philadelphia area was one of the strongholds of the Republican Party.  In the time period between the Civil War and the New Deal, Southeastern Pennsylvania produced margins that made Pennsylvania an overwhelmingly Republican state.  After the New Deal, Philadelphia's Republican machine switched to a Democratic machine, but the collar counties surrounding Philadelphia remained Republican all the way through the Reagan era.

Over the last twenty years, suburban Philadelphia has shifted from being predominately Republican to increasingly Democratic.  While I have my explanations for what accounts for this change, for now I am focusing on the data, not policy recommendations.  What I aim to do is to perform a detailed electoral analysis of each of the four counties outside Philadelphia.

Delaware County: Population (2000): 550,864, Bush 1988 Percentage: 59.9%, McCain 2008 Percentage: 38.8%

Delaware County is one of the smallest counties in Pennsylvania, adjoining to South and West Philadelphia.  The core components of the county are a) small, first-tier boroughs near the City line, b) depressed Chester and surrounding municipalities, c) upper-middle class suburban townships, and d) wealthy Main Line communities like Radnor and Haverford Townships.

John McCain only won lighter populated townships in the western part of the county, and by small margins.  McCain's best municipality in the county only gave him 56.3 percent of the vote.  He defeated Barack Obama in only 9 of the county's 49 municipalities.  What is worse is McCain's performance in the Delaware County portion of the Main Line.  Radnor and Haverford are two of the four largest municipalities in the county and were the definition of the Republican Party for over one hundred years.  No more.  McCain could earn no more than 40 percent of the vote in these communities.  McCain also lost slightly less prosperous suburban townships like Ridley and Nether Providence.

Not all Republicans fared as bad as McCain did.  Tom Corbett, the Attorney General, ran about 10 points ahead of McCain in the Philadelphia area.  I am using Corbett's performance as a comparison to show what a minimum winning Republican coalition looks like in the collar counties.  Corbett was able to win the Main Line and the rest of the suburbs outside of Chester and the boroughs immediately outside Philadelphia.  Corbett was able to win 30 of the 49 municipalities, including every major township except for first-tier Upper Darby Township.

Montgomery County: Population (2000): 750,097, Bush 1988 Percentage: 60.2%, McCain 2008 Percentage: 39.2%

Montgomery County is the largest of the suburban Philadelphia counties.  Montgomery County features long established inner suburbs like Abington and Cheltenham Townships.  The south and west axis of the county is the Schuylkill River, which runs through county seat Norristown before forming the border between Montgomery County and Chester County.  A portion of the Main Line exists in Lower Merion and Narbeth.  The northeastern corner of the county is exurban, developing within the past two decades.

Republicans have been pushed to the periphery in recent years: only Upper Montgomery away from the Schuylkill River is reliably Republican anymore.  McCain won only 11 of 62 municipalities in Montgomery County.  He lost the 23 most populated municipalities in the county, failing to win a municipality with more than 13,000 people.  This was a disaster for the McCain campaign.

As with Delaware County, McCain had an abysmal performance on the Main Line.  Lower Merion Township is the richest and largest municipality in the county, and McCain won a measly 29 percent of the vote there.  Even Corbett could only get 39 percent of the vote, showing how far away they have drifted from the Republican Party.  This produces a vote deficit so large that almost no Republican can overcome it.  Even upper-middle class suburbia found in such entities as the North Penn School District are now lost to Republicans.  Corbett was able to roughly split this crucial grouping of communities; McCain averaged only about 40 percent.

Bucks County: Population (2000): 597,635, Bush 1988 Percentage: 60.0%, McCain 2008 Percentage: 45.2%

Bucks County was the least traditionally Republican of these counties, possessing a strong Democratic Party post-WWII due to the presence of a Levittown in Lower Bucks.  But now, Bucks County is the most Republican of the collar counties.  In the past three elections, the Republican presidential candidate earned between 45-46 percent of the vote.

Lower Bucks is predominately Democratic, though not overwhelmingly so.  Places like Bensalem, Bristol, and Falls Townships, which are essentially North Northeast Philadelphia, are the most Democratic areas.  Middle Bucks is centered on Doylestown and the surrounding suburban townships.  This is the swing area of the county and Obama's victory was earned here.  Corbett was able to earn about 58 percent in the area made up of the sprawling Central Bucks School District.  Upper Bucks is now the most reliably Republican area in Metro Philadelphia.  McCain was able to win nearly all of the townships there, but the margins aren't enough to offset gains in the middle of the county.

There is more hope for Republicans in Bucks County than in any other of the counties mentioned here.  The drop-off in the Bush years was insignificant, even as other collar counties turned away from Republican candidates in droves.  One advantage with Bucks is that there is nowhere in the county that is really poor.  The major town, Doylestown, is mostly middle-class, making it much more affluent than, say, Chester or Norristown.  Also, not much of the county is dead set against Republicans.  Only Lower Bucks (and only certain parts) provide Democrats with big margins.  First-tier suburbs here are more amenable than in other counties.  Middle Bucks requires a swing of a few percentage points and Upper Bucks, even in a miserable 2008, voted Republican, though the margins need to be improved.

Chester County: Population (2000): 433,501, Bush 1988 Percentage: 67.0%, McCain 2008 Percentage: 45.0%

Chester County is the most exurban part of the metro area.  There are a few mid-sized towns such as West Chester, Coatesville, Downingtown, and Phoenixville.  But most of the county is composed of residential suburbs.  This is among the fastest growing areas in Pennsylvania and is the richest county in the state.

It was once one of the most Republican counties in the state.  It gave Nixon 64, 57, and 68 percent of the vote in 1960, 1968, and 1972 respectively; 61 and 70 percent to Reagan; and 67 percent to the elder Bush.  Those large margins are gone, though it was the only one of these counties to vote for George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004.  2008 was a historic reversal, as McCain ran 7 points behind Bush's 2004 performance, becoming the first Republican presidential candidate to lose in Chester County since 1964.

In the case of Chester County, it appears there are more genuine temporary Republican defections than in other parts of the metro area, where more permanent ideological changes have occured.  If any part of suburban Philadelphia was affected by the housing market crash, it was a fast growing county like Chester.  Corbett was able to win the county by a near reverse of the presidential margin.  McCain won only 25 of the 73 municipalities in the county.  However, in another 24 municipalities McCain earned between 45 to 49.3 percent of the vote.  Surely all of these municipalities were Republican in the past, and should not be too difficult to have them return to the fold.

McCain only won western townships in school districts like Octorara and Twin Valley.  These are still mostly rural areas which are closer to Lancaster than Philadelphia.  The most populated suburban areas were won by Obama.  The Chester County component of the Main Line (Tredyffrin Twp., Easttown Twp., Willistown Twp., and Malvern) was won by Obama, though by slight margins.  Obama ran up strong margins in the towns and was able to win over most of the important townships outside of West Chester, Downingtown, and Phoenixville.

The poor showing of John McCain and the national Republican Party in the Philadelphia suburbs is the top reason why Pennsylvania has increasingly become a Democratic state.  In the next part however, we can see there is a different story to tell in the Pittsburgh area.


An Orgy of Hate

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This weekend gave rise to perhaps the worst feeding frenzy that I have seen in my young life.  The whole odyssey of the Sarah Palin pick for Vice President, from her surprise selection, to the indecent internet rumors, to the confirmation that her 17 year-old daughter is pregnant has been the biggest political rollercoaster ride I can remember.  It was one part “West Wing”, one part “Juno”, one part “Northern Exposure”.  While you could view this from the detached perspective of amusement over the soap opera that has developed, I haven’t ever been this disillusioned about the political process.

First, the media was woefully ignorant of the reaction of the religious right to the Bristol Palin pregnancy.  The media believes in the caricature of a social conservative who is harshly judgmental of personal conduct, especially on sexual matters.  Like any caricature, there are some elements of truth to this (I have a hard time thinking the religious right would’ve had the same reaction to a candidate’s teenage daughter getting pregnant in say, 1988).  But what the media thought would be a repeat of 2000’s October surprise (the Bush DUI story, which most likely depressed evangelical turnout) didn’t happen.  Instead, every available conservative Christian leader issued a statement of support.  The media, whose only church exposure is derived from funeral services for politicians, knew nothing about how the religious right would feel about the pregnancy story.

Because of these misplaced hopes, the New York Times ran THREE page one stories on the pregnancy.  This was more than they ever ran on John Edwards and his love child, where in his case he was an adult politician.  But that would require basic fairness.

But the Times were only kid’s stuff compared to what was online.  Daily Kos reached yet another low in its Palin coverage.  One quote illustrates the blackness of their souls:

If health insurance for all, an end to the Iraq War, an end to torture and illegal wiretapping, and a sane energy policy can be obtained at the price of destroying one teenage girl, her family, and the surrendering our self-respect I see that as a cheap trade.

That is straight out of a Dostoyevsky novel.

But you can almost expect these pathetic human beings to be this vicious.  But what was so offensive as to make me question if my computer screen was working properly was the conduct of Andrew Sullivan.  He completed his long decline from original, provocative commentator to Obama tool this weekend.  His breathless reporting of rumors deriving from the bowels of Daily Kos readers was so far over the line for a well known blogger that I can’t see how he wouldn’t be disciplined for it.  The Atlantic needs to come out and condemn his scurrilous posts.  If they don’t, I hope his fellow Atlantic bloggers do.  I hope a President Obama is worth your soul Andrew.

One person who was above this was  Obama himself.  This has been Obama’s most honorable moment in the entire campaign.  He stated in unambiguous terms (a rarity for him) that this topic was “entirely off limits”.  In cynical political terms, Obama was never going to make this an issue.  But there was heart felt sincerity to the comment that didn’t have to be there.  I think that is because Obama was born in nearly the exact same circumstance as this pregnancy.  Joe Biden also reiterated the same stance, so some small measure of thanks should also extend to him.    

So what is this hubbub all about?  It’s quite simple.  The left are running scared because this has been the best moment for conservatism in the past five years.  When was the last time that both Bill Kristol and Pat Buchanan raved over a public official?  There is something afoot amongst the right because of the Palin pick.  The massive fundraising boost since the pick (over $10 million since Friday) is a testament to the revival of the conservative base.  The left understands the promise of Sarah Palin and how damaging she could be to their aims.  The goal of the left in this case is the shameful modus operandi of modern day politics: throw everything at the wall and see if something sticks.

Palin is Clarence Thomas part II.  He received his “high-tech lynching” because he was the first prominent black conservative on the national stage.  Palin is receiving the same treatment because she is the first prominent woman conservative on the national stage.  They are so damaging to the left because they undermine the left-wing narrative that only rich white guys are conservative.  If Palin is allowed to succeed, she could in the future bring millions of women into the Republican Party, making left-wing power a nearly unattainable goal.  So she must be destroyed.

After the media hyenas have pretty much determined that the entire Palin family is open to merciless attacks, I have to ask: why would anyone want to run for office these days?  I’m only four years older than Bristol Palin.  I couldn’t imagine being pregnant at 17, and then having the entire country find out.  The real tragedy of the past few days is that I’m pretty sure some future pillars of our society decided they will never run for office after this orgy of hate. 


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