Handicapping 2008: Pennsylvania

Written by Paul Zannucci on 9:27 AM

Note: In addition to taking a close look at what separates the candidates on the big issues, we’re going to be looking at the Electoral College race. We’ll update the predictions as circumstances change; for example, VP selections. We started off by giving Obama an automatic 3 electoral point lead for the District of Columbia. Outside of D.C. we’ve given New Hampshire’s 4 electoral votes to John McCain.

Recent History:
Pennsylvania is consistently tossed out as a battleground state, but should be a prime candidate for moving into the “strong Democrat” category, having only gone to the Republican candidate in the four largest conservative sweeps in recent history. In fact, in the last ten presidential elections, PA has gone Democrat more often than California. PA voted for Al Gore and John Kerry, Bill Clinton, Jimmy Carter and even Hubert Humphrey in 1968. We’ll give the +2% (with 3% being the maximum) to Obama.

Republicans: By the time of the primary in PA, McCain was essentially uncontested, though Huckabee and Paul were still on the ballet. Still, it was somewhat surprising to see that 27% of conservative voters decided to vote for someone other than McCain. The primary was not well attended by Republicans; still, having over a quarter of voters bother to cast what amounted to a protest vote is at least a little significant. We’ll give McCain no points for winning this primary.

Democrats: PA is Clinton country and showed it during the primary, famously going 58% to 42% in favor of Hillary despite Philadelphia going to Obama by 30%. Prior to Clinton dropping out of the race, she consistently showed better in the national election than Obama. While history has shown that coming in second during a primary isn’t a great hindrance within a state (those voters have to go somewhere, after all, and are much more likely to stick with their party’s nomination) we can’t give any points to Obama in this case. He was clearly not the choice of PA Democrats.

National Mood:
President: To avoid rehashing this with every state, we’ll just say that the country is pretty annoyed with President Bush. The economy is struggling under ridiculous gas and food prices, and the war on terror has been so successful that the country has grown weary of it. Pennsylvania has a tendency to track just below the national average in Bush’s approval ratings. Given the national mood and where PA tends to fall in surveys of this sort, we’ll give +3% to Obama.

Nitty Gritty:
In the primaries, McCain fared best in the most liberal portions of the state, around Philadelphia, where he doesn’t stand a chance in the November election. Looking to the more conservative middle and western portions of PA, we see his totals in some counties dropping below 70%. Essentially, he is strong where it hardly matters and weak where he needs to be strong. The state is at around 10% African-American, slightly below average, but only around 4% Hispanic, which is well below average. Conventional wisdom expects McCain to get more of the Hispanic vote than Obama, so this is another factor against McCain in PA. We’ll go +2% to Obama.

Bottom Line:
Despite all of this, Bush lost both the 2000 and 2004 elections by relatively narrow margins. In 2000, he lost by 4.17%; in 2004, by only 2%. There is a diehard crew of conservatives in PA who have shown up on election day and made it close. Nevertheless, it doesn’t appear as though McCain has, as of yet, inspired this core. Even if he manages it, it appears it would be a fruitless attempt. Pennsylvania only goes for the Republican when nearly everyone else does, too. Unless something dramatic happens, this looks to be a wider Democrat victory than in the previous two elections. We’ll go with +7% to Obama.

6-12-2008: Pennsylvania, 21 Electoral College votes to Obama.

Current CP total: McCain 4, Obama 24.

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