November 11, 2012
HARRISBURG — Democrats stole the show in Tuesday's election in Pennsylvania, capturing every race for statewide office while winning a huge majority in Philadelphia as well as the growing and increasingly liberal Philadelphia suburbs, once a Republican stronghold in which people vote in higher proportions than the rest of the state.
For Republicans, that may be a worrying trend that they will need to address. But it's not clear whether it will carry forward to 2014.
For one thing, there will no presidential candidate on the ballot to inspire Democrats to vote in higher numbers. Second, it is too early to say whether a national wave favoring one political party will emerge in 2014, as happened in the last two midterm elections to enormous effect in Pennsylvania.
In Pennsylvania, it's becoming clear that it's two different states in presidential and nonpresidential years, said Mark Harris, who helped run the Republican campaigns of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey in 2010 and this year's losing U.S. Senate candidate, Tom Smith.
The next candidate up will be Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, expected to seek a second four-year term in 2014. All attention will be on him that year, the first time since 2002 when the governor's contest will be the only one at the top of the ticket, without any candidates for president or U.S. Senate with whom to compete for attention or money.
On Tuesday, more than 70 percent of the 1.2 million voters in the four suburban Philadelphia counties — Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery — turned out. Not counting the Democratic bastion of Philadelphia, the rest of the state's 5.7 million voters turned out at 65 percent.
A bright spot for Republicans is the growing strength they are showing in western Pennsylvania. But population growth in western Pennsylvania has been stagnant compared with southeastern Pennsylvania.
On the downside, Republican Mitt Romney won just 14 percent of the vote in Philadelphia, lower than George W. Bush and John McCain.
Republicans are starting to have trouble finding enough voters in the Philadelphia suburbs to have a legitimate chance in a statewide election, said Christopher Borick, a pollster and political scientist at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.
You wonder if there's enough votes elsewhere in the state for them to win this thing, and that's hard math for the Republicans, Borick said.
Former Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat who remains the state party's campaigner-in-chief, said it will be almost impossible for a conservative Republican to win if Philadelphia's voters show up in stronger numbers.
Republicans have to run candidates who can appeal to the Philadelphia suburbs, Rendell said.
Corbett, who ran for governor while his attorney general's office was carrying out high-profile public corruption investigations, won in 2010 amid another national wave favoring Republicans and nearly perfect conditions for the party's candidates.
Just 40 percent of Philadelphia voters actually cast a ballot as Corbett went on to hold a tiny edge in the Philadelphia suburbs and beat Allegheny County's executive, Dan Onorato, by 9 percentage points.
Asked Friday whether this year's election would change anything he does as governor, Corbett said he tries to learn from every election and would decide how he needs to adapt, if necessary.