Pennsylvania Dreamin'

Paul Gronke

Some random musings about Pennsylvania on this primary day...

I have lots of roots in that state.  My first wife's family hailed from Kittanning, the county seat of Armstrong County, about one hour north of Pittsburgh.  All of her relatives were working class folk.  One brother was a stonesmith (mainly made gravestones), another brother drove a truck, and the older sister was a nurse.  One remarkable thing to me, city boy that I was (and am) was the centrality of hunting to their lives. The whole state shut down on the 1st of November--I think it is still a state holiday, the same day that deer season opened.  This was followed by bow season, musket season, and a bunch of other seasons.

These folks have roots in Appalachia--in fact, much of that region of the country moved during the Depression from N. Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee straight up to Pennsylvania to work in the coal and steel industries.

These are working class folks of Scoth/Irish stock, and I seriously doubt that they'd ever vote for a black man for president.

My current in-laws also come from Pennsylvania, from the northeastern corner of the state.  All were born and bred in Dunmore, a city just north of Scranton (yep, the same Scranton of Dunder-Mifflin and the same Scranton of Hillary Clinton).  These folks are working class as well--nurses, teachers, firemen, and plumbers.  But they don't have the same roots as those in the west--these folks came west from NY, NJ, or moved north from Philly and Baltimore.  A lot more nasal twang and a lot less "you'ns" then the westerners.  A lot more British and a lot less Scottish. 

I think they're more likely to vote for a black man than my former family, but it's still going to be a hard sell.

So why do I write all of this?  Because it strikes me that Pennsylvania is a really odd place for the Democratic Party to be making a stand.  In one respect, if a Democratic Party standard bearer can't win a state like PA, then they are going to lose white working class strongholds nationwide.

On the other hand, the future of the Democratic Party, and of the nation, just does not lie in small towns like Butler, Kittanning, or Dunmore.  These are OLD towns, full of elderly residents.  The young folks mainly have moved on to the big cities (Pittsburgh, Philly, Harrisburg), or out of state (Baltimore, DC, Newark). 

The coal industry is not going to return.  The steel industry has ended.  The future of PA lies in light industrial that is slowly growing outwards from Newark Airport (Allentown, Bethlehem, and the picturesque regions around the Poconos), the service industries growing northwards from Washington DC., and in the urban and suburban areas around Pittsburgh, Hershey, and Philadelphia.

Just a big, strange, oddly familiar state to one with working class roots very close to the surface.

  • jj (unverified)

    No early predictions?

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    I'm freaking out. I have total O-anxiety. I have to know how this is going; my belly can't take it. Exit polls say Clinton ahead by four points. Does anyone else feel the need to buy out the Tums on Election day?

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    Paul, you indirectly identify one of the central features of modern politics: what is symbolic is always given more weight than what is real. That's the lesson of the George and Charlie debate debacle. So instead of finding out what Obama thinks about fringe lefties, we have a debate about his association with fringe lefties, the idea being that we can learn more about the "real" Obama by studying, conspiracy-theory-style, the distance connections in his life.

    Hillary has spent 42 days selling the story that Pennsylvania IS America. Forget those stupid little caucus flyovers, what Kittanningers think is what America thinks. They are the soul of the Democratic Party--nay, the soul of America--and we should collect their wisdom like its the utterance straight from the lips of God.

    And get ready for the next great battle of symbol: wherein Obamaniacs try to turn his loss into a win, and Hillaryites try to turn her win in PA into an argument for her to be the nominee.

    Reality? That's so pre-mo.

  • Harry Kershner (unverified)

    Jeff Alworth said: "So instead of finding out what Obama thinks about fringe lefties, we have a debate about his association with fringe lefties..."

    What Obama or Clinton have to do with "the left", fringe or not, is a mystery to me.

    "It is not a matter of what is true that counts, but a matter of what is perceived to be true." Henry Kissinger

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    Karol, it gets worse: throughout the primary, early exits have consistently overstated support for Obama.


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    Am I the only one who thinks it is ridiculous for them to call a race at only 10% of the precincts in? That doesn't even mean that 10% of the vote has been counted, as the size of precincts can really vary from rural to urban areas.

    So you could have a large number of the "full size" precincts all turning in their votes, a large number of the smaller rural precincts all turning in their votes, or some combo.

    Already her 11 point lead at 9% has dropped to 6 points.

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    Actually, I just went into CNN and looked at their interactive maps. Many of the rural counties have large numbers of their results turned in (some in the 30-50% range).

    One urban county, that will very likely go Obama, is at 0% precincts reporting.

    There ought to be a law that they can't make the call this early.

    I won't be surprised if Senator Clinton takes Pennsylvania, but I expect it'll be much closer than many thought it was going to be.

  • A. Rab. (unverified)

    Jenni, they are using a combination of exit polling and the actual returns. So far, it looks like the returns match the polls - so it is probably safe to call the race. It looks like what everybody expected, Clinton wins 52-47 (or so).

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    Lest we fall into unnecessary stereotypes...I'm a white Irish woman from rural Montana whose maternal grandfather was a plumber -- the other grandfather was truckdriver.

    And...I'm a huge Obama supporter. If nothing else, this election is showing us that traditional stereotypes and viewpoints are not holding up as they did in the past. Let's not reinforce them ourselves.

  • LT (unverified)

    I heard someone on the radio today saying that liberal and conservative don't mean much to people paying $3.50 for gas.

    Stereotypes are a problem. I'm a 61 year old college educated white woman who is not voting for Hillary. "Church goers" is another stereotype. Joe Lieberman is a very religious man. So are Catholics, Methodists, Congregationalists, Baptists, etc.

    The famous "frequent churchgoers decided the 2004 election" survey turned out to be relying on stereotypes. It wasn't about being able to randomly choose any place of worship in any city, pick maybe the 10th person leaving services, say "Why did you vote for Bush" and always get an answer of "I voted for Bush because...".

    Many church goers (incl. clergy, church musicians, ushers, Sunday School teachers, etc. who define regular attendance!) did not all vote the same way. Just like there were congregations in Oregon on both sides of Measure 36.

    If 10 people want to vote different ways for 10 different reasons, wise campaigners will not say they have to vote as they are predicted to vote.

  • Iron Man Local 29 (unverified)

    Obama simply doesn't represent my interests as a White Union Man, I've been a union member and democrat for 23 years and this is the first time I have even contemplated voting Republican but if my party nominates Obama it'll be like whoever said, "I didnt leave the democratic party, it left me".

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    It's not about stereotypes - it's about the poll numbers. The poll numbers showed that Clinton is doing better in rural parts of Pennsylvania and Obama better in urban areas.

    So if more rural precincts have turned in than urban, Clinton's numbers could be higher than they actually will be. And by the same token, if more urban precincts have turned in than rural ones, Obama's numbers could be higher than they actually are.

    But just because a rural area tends to go Clinton doesn't mean that everyone there is a Clinton supporter. I mean, by my background, race, and gender, I should statistically be a Clinton supporter. But I am in fact an Obama supporter.

  • A. Rab. (unverified)

    IML, given that Clinton and Obama agree on 99% of all major issues, and have differences of degree, not kind, on the other 1%, I assume you also feel Clinton does not represent your interests. So, what you are really saying is that you are a McCain voter, full stop.

  • dliu (unverified)

    From the perspective of someone who voted absentee on Super Tuesday: with all of the additional campaigning that has happened in the past two months, given that this is still the same race, is it really a good thing to have large numbers of people voting who are de facto more informed about the two candidates?

    For example, say I would have voted for Obama only after his Rev. Wright speech, or that I would have voted for Clinton only after her strong performance in the debate last week. Yet I am systematically deprived of the ability to reconsider all of the arguments made within the same presidential race. If we had a do-over of Super Tuesday today, instead of just Pennsylvania, would the result be significantly different?

    Just wondering out loud. Is this even a fair question to ask?

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    "Obama simply doesn't represent my interests as a White Union Man, I've been a union member and democrat for 23 years and this is the first time I have even contemplated voting Republican but if my party nominates Obama it'll be like whoever said, "I didnt leave the democratic party, it left me"."

    So you're voting GOP no matter what? Because Hillary and her husband have been no friend of the union man.

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    "Am I the only one who thinks it is ridiculous for them to call a race at only 10% of the precincts in?"

    They're using model precincts. Clinton is outperforming in the model precincts, thus they call it.

  • pat malach (unverified)

    Thanks for the insights, Paul.

    A friend who grew up in Philly told me much the same thing today.

  • trishka (unverified)

    kristin, where in rural montana are you from?

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    A little town called Ferndale, which is outside of Bigfork, which is outside of Kalispell. Close to Glacier. Are you from Montana? (sorry to be off-topic)

  • sandra longley (unverified)

    T. joe, I think you will find most union members are very astute as to who best represents their interests, Union members in general support hillary, the nurses union, the largest union in the usa supports hillary and her health care program, workers in the trade unions know hillary has very detailed and specific programs to benifit union workers, Her program to create green manufacturing jobs in oregon and make oregon the green capital of the usa, will bring high wage jobs to oregonians. Having gone to obamas website early on he was just proposing more nuke plants and coal fired plants-now his website reflects hillarys ideas without the detail.

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    I have an increasing sinking feeling that whichever "historic first" nomination the Democrats make, it will be like Al Smith's historic first Catholic nomination in 1928.

    Unfortunately the arguments about race/racism hurting Obama and the arguments about sex/misogyny hurting Clinton in the general may both be true.

    NPR was reporting either a plurality or small majority of Obama supporters saying they wouldn't support Clinton if she gets the nomination, and 60% of Clinton supporters saying that about Obama (I think just in PA?). And this is among primary-voting Democrats (albeit some only newly so) -- never mind the independents and soft Republicans. Though much of this is not about about identity politics, except the identity as an emotionally attached backer of either candidate.

    We've got to pull our socks up folks, stop spewing vitriol at one another and each others' candidates, and stop drinking the "love my candidate, the hell with the party and the general election" kool-aid.

    As Kristy P. of the one-time Portland punk rock band Lotek sang, "It's a Jim Jones scene." (background lyric: "Kool-Aid and cyanide, they drank it and then they died" to the tune of "Crimson & Clover" ...)

    TJ, the issue isn't about whether either Clinton is a friend of the union man (or woman) -- it's whether John McCain is. Which he is not, & that is what we will have to convince folks like Iron Man Local 29 of, or hope that the COPE for his union can, if Obama is nominated.

  • Bill R. (unverified)

    Polling consistently shows that slightly more people will vote for a black male for president than a woman. I think it's a ridiculous argument in a progressive party to rule candidates in or out by race or gender. The amount of melanin in one's skin pigmentation has no bearing on what a person brings to the presidency, any more than what genitalia a person may possess.

    I think the whole premise of this post is flawed. Let the candidates make their case. Obama has made his case and been successful. Why should he be ruled out because there is more racial tension in Pa.? Or because some people won't vote for him because of skin pigmentation, like our "White Union" guy? Who apparently is ashamed to tell us his name. The important thing about him, he tells us, is that a candidate possess the same racial identity as he does. So, if harbors those attitudes, let him vote for the party with that kind of poison, the Republicans.

    Apparently the Teamsters, the SEIU, and a number of unions can support Obama. So I have to think that the issue here is skin pigmentation and not about being Union.Certainly Hillary with her Walmart union busting career is not an advertisement for pro-union. So the real issue there is race. Let's not fool ourselves.

    Well, there was time when the unions didn't admit persons of dark pigmented skin. Those days are gone, and it's time we challenged the notion that presidency is off limits, to a man who has clear gifts to offer because he has parentage that is mixed Caucasian and African. He has won 30 contests in the nomination process, has 1.3 million donors, outraised his competitors in donations by the tens of millions. His competitor is broke and has no chance of becoming the nominee. So because Hillary was able to garner the racist vote in Pa., he should be ruled out by the party regulars? I don't think that will happen. But in all honesty I don't want any part of a party like that.

    He is on his way to the nomination. By a large margin Dem. voters see him as the stronger candidate, and he polls as well or better against McCain as Hillary, (considerably better in Oregon.) So when people start talking about whether their family members can abide voting for someone of mixed race, all I can say is "get over it." Most younger people are getting over it, so let's get over it and stop catering to it! If the Dem. party isn't up to this, let's find out now, so those of us who have been misled into thinking it was a progressive party can go elsewhere.

  • trishka (unverified)

    kristen, i left a comment on your blog.

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    Posted by: Iron Man Local 29 | Apr 22, 2008 7:08:29 PM

    <h2>This is a total fake. Love me the anon commeters.</h2>

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