Will Pa. Forsake the Democrats in 2016?

We've voted for Democrats in six straight elections. Are we ready for a Republican?

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Democrats love Pennsylvania. Hillary Clinton won her 2008 primary here. The party is holding its 2016 presidential convention here. We haven’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1988. The next election is going to be a lovefest between the Keystone State and Dems, right?

Perhaps not. Political analysts are saying that Pennsylvania, which usually comes out blue in presidential elections, could in fact turn out to be a “toss-up” state in 2016.

PoliticsPA reports that the Cook Political Report, which it calls “one of the most respected political prognosticators in the country,” has released its latest electoral college scorecard for the 2016 presidential election. And Pennsylvania, which has long been in Cook’s “Lean Democratic” column is now listed as one of nine states that could go either way.

The state last voted for a Republican when George H.W. Bush — the older Bush — first ran for president. Is Pennsylvania really a state again?

Maybe.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt Pennsylvania will be a competitive state,” said Terry Madonna, the director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall University, said of Pennsylvania’s new status. 

Pennsylvania has gone blue in the past six presidential elections, Madonna says, and shifting demographics have helped carry Democrats in elections with larger turnouts. The African-American vote, he says, has increased as a total percentage of that population, while the white vote has declined in the same manner — to 72 percent, the lowest proportion recorded, he added.

But Madonna adds that Pennsylvania Republicans have had a recent string of success in state politics. Starting in 2010, he said, state Republicans have picked up five seats in the state legislature. As a result of “artful but legal gerrymandering,” he said , Republicans hold 119 seats in the state House and have had control of the Senate — save for one 14-month span — since 1980.

“We’re in a position where we’re not quite sure what will happen,” Madonna said.

The loss of swing-state status has resulted in a loss of presidential attention over the years. In 2012, Madonna said, Pennsylvania was little visited by candidates during the general election.

“Romney only visited Pennsylvania once he figured out that he couldn’t win Ohio,” Madonna says. He adds, “In this century, we’ve [Pennsylvania] gone from being one of the most-visited states – in terms of presidential campaign events – to being an afterthought.”

It’s too early to predict how voters will feel in November 2016, however.

“There are too many unknowns at this point,” Madonna said, pointing to economics and foreign affairs as areas that could throw wrinkles in the race. “We simply don’t know,” he said.