Pennsylvania May Play A Bigger Role Than Usual In The Presidential Race

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A view of the Philadelphia city skyline on April 25, 2014. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
A view of the Philadelphia city skyline on April 25, 2014. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Pennsylvania has a special place in its heart for politics. The birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution is now one of the most politically diverse states in the country.

Pennsylvania was once considered an important swing state, although it has voted Democratic in the last six presidential elections.

But political scientist and pollster Terry Madonna tells Here & Now's Robin Young that things are changing and the Democrats and Republicans are gearing up to battle for Pennsylvanians' votes in 2016.

Interview Highlights: Terry Madonna

On Pennsylvania's tradition as a swing state:

“In 2012 the candidates were not here. They made about two or three visits. They spent about $31, 35 million in 2012. But if you go back 2008, 2004, we were one of the top five most visited states of all the fifty. Let's add another thing: well over $100 million in advertising. If you think about it, the polls in the battleground states, Pennsylvania, right now, Hillary Clinton has, let's say, 1.5 or 2 point lead. We're one of the four or five closest states in the Union. The Republicans made it clear that this is a battle ground state. They intend to be here. By the way, when Mike Pence came after he got the nomination, one of his first events on Thursday morning was to come to the Pennsylvania delegation and said, 'This is important. We're going to be here.' Now hold on, Hillary Clinton is doing a bus trip after the convention through Pennsylvania. Her campaign has not said yet this is a targeted state, but we think that's going to be very evident.”

On Pennsylvania voting more blue recently:

“That's correct. But here’s the other way to think about it. Other than Obama's substantial victory with 55 percent in 2008. Fifty-two percent was the highest that any Democrat has gotten beginning with Bill Clinton in 1992. Bill Clinton didn't win a majority, of course, Ross Perot was in those races. Al Gore wins the state by 3.5, 4 points. John Kerry wins by 2, 2.5. You see where I am, and this year because of the so-called 'Rust Belt Theory' that's going on, Hillary Clinton is having trouble with white, blue-collared workers. In this state, mainly in the southwestern, in the counties outside of Philadelphia, southeastern Ohio and up in Youngstown. Go to Michigan, go to Wisconsin — they're the big four that the Trump campaign thinks they can win white, blue-collared workers and as a result of that has an opportunity to win those states.”

On Pennsylvania's western part has being called "Pennslytucky:"

“Well, the reason they say that is that they're conservative democrats. They tend to be pro-life, not exactly crazy about gay marriage. They're very pro-gun, and that's not untrue for two-thirds of Pennsylvania. If you cut Pennsylvania in thirds, stop at the Susquehanna River. East--it's a very different state than west of the Susquehanna. If you go west of the Susquehanna River, two-thirds of the state, the Democrats only have one member of Congress, and he represents mostly Pittsburgh and a little bit of Westmoreland county.

On Scranton and Clinton:

"I think Scranton, you have to remember, Scranton itself is in Lackawanna County, that will stay Democratic, but there are counties surrounding it, like Luzerne, where you have a lot of the old coal interest, anthracite coal. You've got Lou Barletta, the congressman from that district, who was the first member of Congress, I think, to endorse Donald Trump, and in the polls that have been done, Trump actually leads in Luzerne County. Scranton is a different place. I joke and say, 'The Irish who live there had an extra gene for politics. They love their politics.' Senator Casey is from there. His father, Governor Bob Casey, is from there. Biden was born there and lived there until he was 10 when he moved to Newcastle, to Wilmington where his dad got into the automobile business. Hillary Clinton's grandfather and father were born in Scranton, and here's the kicker: Hillary Clinton's father played football for Penn State."

On an overall assessment of the upcoming election:

"For the angst and the anger the electorate has this year, both candidates are in record territory for unpopularity. But the signs are clear in the polls. Interest in the election, following the election. We could actually — notice how I put this, could — have a higher turnout than we've had in recent decades. People are following it. They're involved in it, even though they're probably voting against the other party's candidate more than they're voting for their own candidate."


Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs and director of the Franklin & Marshall College poll at Franklin & Marshall College. He tweets @terrymadonna.

This segment aired on July 25, 2016.


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