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Obama Wins Pennsylvania

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Was Pennsylvania ever really in play in the final days of the campaign?

It was not.  The final results had Barack Obama winning the state by about 300,000 votes -- way below his 2008 total -- but still a comfortable margin.

Looking in the rear-view mirror (which is so much clearer), the dynamic in the final days of the presidential campaign was this:  The national Romney surge that began after the first debate had sputtered to a stop.  The Republican candidate was trailing or tied in the nine so-called key states.

The last public polls in Pennsylvania showed Obama ahead -- as they had the entire campaign -- but his margin had declined.

The Romney campaign rolled into the state pronouncing Pennsylvania as winnable.  In came the candidate for appearances in Bucks County and Pittsburgh. Up went his TV ads and the ads of his Super PAC supporters attacking Obama.

But, the ploy wasn't based on optimism. The Romney campaign knew it was going to lose key states, including Ohio, Virginia and Iowa, which would block its candidate's path to getting the 270 electoral votes needed to win.


In an earlier piece, I put it this way:

Forgive the analogy, but this reminds me of the Civil War, circa 1863. As Gen. Robert E. Lee surveyed the scene, he saw that the Confederates had lost the western front and were losing the South. He decided to counter with a bold offensive move into the heart of the North. Into Pennsylvania.

His goal was to scare the bejabbers out of Northerners who, in turn, might elect a peace candidate in the 1864 presidential election who would be willing to negotiate an end to the war. Lee did accomplish goal one. His defeat at Gettysburg ruined goal two. Abraham Lincoln was re-elected.

In other words, instead of being an opportunistic move (We're doing so well elsewhere we are going to open a new front!), it was a move dictated by desperation.

In fact, it likely had an effect opposite the one intended.

To Obama supporters in Pennsylvania, the presidential campaign was a distant storm -- something that was happening in OhioIowaFlorida, etc., but not here. Then suddenly they looked out the window, and there was thunder, lightning and that heavy rain of pro-Romney and anti-Obama ads.

It was a wake up call, especially here in the southeast, which is an Obama stronghold.

On Election Day Obama won the eight-county Philadelphia media market by about 600,000 votes, a margin that easily offset Romney's wins in other counties in the state.

In Philadelphia, Obama actually improved his margin over 2008, albeit slightly.  He got 83 percent of the vote in the city when his opponent was John McCain.  This year, he got 85 percent.

Black indicator wards I have followed over time show that Obama got 99 percent of the African-American vote in the city. (Up from 98 percent in 2008.)

For the record, in the 10 black wards I watch, Obama got 65,000 votes and Romney got 800.  That is not a misprint.  He got only 800 votes.

The election also confirmed the broader voter trends that have turned Pennsylvania from a swing state into a blue state, especially in statewide races. These are trends that do not bode well for the Republicans. (See our recent Cover Story for an in-depth look at what is happening.) 

These state trends mirror national ones. The winning Obama coalition included young voters, women (especially affluent women), African Americans and Latinos, plus professionals who live in the suburbs.  On Tuesday, he was also able to hold onto Democratic blue-collar voters, especially in the Midwest.

If demographics are destiny, the GOP is in trouble, as the nation's white population declines in relation to minorities. (To cite an example close to home, the Latino population in Pennsylvania has nearly doubled in the past 10 years.)

Being the party of the white/conservative/evangelicals is not a bad thing -- if you are running for office in Kansas. If you are trying to win national elections, though, it does not help -- especially if your base forbids contact with groups that could help you build a winning coalition.

The last political party to be so relentlessly retrograde was the Whigs.  Seen any Whigs around lately?

-- Tom Ferrick

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