Pennsylvania Losing Swing-State Status

Democrats Strengthen Grip on Onetime Bellwether


By Lisa Hostein

Published October 11, 2012, issue of October 19, 2012.
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Pennsylvania, it seems, has lost its swing. We’re not talking 1940s big band music or even baseball here, despite the disappointing finish of the Phillies and the Pirates. The losing streak extends to the political realm as well. This once heavily courted state is quickly losing its standing as a toss-up. With President Barack Obama enjoying leads in recent state polling, the Keystone State no longer merits the star status it commanded — and enjoyed — in previous presidential battles.

For Obama supporters, of course, this is a good thing. They’ll sacrifice all the attention for the peace of mind that Obama is ahead. Mitt Romney supporters, for their part, hold out hope that the dynamics could still change in the final weeks of the campaign, given Romney’s first debate bounce.

It’s easy to see why until just a month ago Pennsylvania rated swing status. Although the Democratic candidate has trumped his opponent in the state in each of the last five presidential races, the fact is that Pennsylvanians defy easy prediction when it comes to choosing their political leaders. Their erratic voting record is why the state often arouses the hopes of candidates across the political spectrum. This is, after all, the state that elected a (Jewish) Democrat, Ed Rendell, as governor during the same period that Rick Santorum, the archconservative and recent presidential hopeful, represented the state for two terms in the U.S. Senate. Since the 1970s, in fact, residents here have thrown the party in power out of the governor’s mansion in Harrisburg every eight years. And while Obama won here easily by more than 10% in 2008, two years later, voters elected conservative Republicans Tom Corbett as governor and Pat Toomey as junior senator.

It follows that when the Keystone State is in play, so, too, are its Jews. Jews make up an estimated 2.3% of the state’s population, according to Jewish Virtual Library, with close to 300,000 Jews in all. With a demographic that skews older, the number of actual voters in that mix could make a difference in a close election. More than two-thirds of Pennsylvania’s Jews live in Philadelphia and its ever-extending suburbs. This includes Montgomery County, once a Republican stronghold, which since 2008 has more registered Democrats than Republicans. In 2008, the county, where 30% of the region’s Jews live, garnered national media and campaign attention as a must-win and bellwether for where the nation was headed.

But as the campaigns turn their attention elsewhere, the Jewish community is not attracting the multiple high-level surrogate appearances and advertising dollars it did in the past. Even the Republican Jewish Coalition, which had positioned Pennsylvania squarely in its $6 million campaign to target Jewish constituencies in battleground states, has significantly scaled back its operations here.

While the national pitch for the Jews has shifted to Florida, Ohio and Nevada, locally, Jews are still swinging hard — both for the candidates and at each other.

Both Romney and Obama have garnered significant financial support from Pennsylvania’s Jews. Although figures are hard to come by, given the lack of full disclosure on campaign financing, insiders say that Romney has pulled in more Jewish Republican funds than did previous GOP nominees. The Philadelphia Jewish community boasts Romney’s state finance committee chairman, attorney Charles Kopp, and a top bundler, Mitchell Morgan, a Montgomery County developer. As the Jewish Exponent’s Bryan Schwartzman reported recently, Morgan says he has raised a total of $1.7 million from friends and associates and has hosted the candidate in his home three times in the past year.


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