Things looking up for GOP down-ballot |

Things looking up for GOP down-ballot


Nestled in the valley between Chestnut and Laurel ridges, this tiny village once included a state-funded relief camp for jobless men during the Great Depression; it housed, fed and employed them for 40 cents an hour (before the government deducted a daily 85-cent maintenance fee).

It began a generational dependence and an allegiance to Democrats that lasted for 80 years and kept Republicans out of office in Saltlick Township and Fayette County.

Democrats' registration is overwhelming here, dwarfing Republicans' by more than 41,000 voters. So it's no surprise that they win every seat from the top down in this area along stunning Indian Head Creek — that is, until recently.

The last Republican presidential candidate to easily carry this county was Richard Nixon, until Mitt Romney handily beat Barack Obama here in 2012. John McCain's 2008 win here over Obama was by fewer than 90 votes — and if you count liberal counterculture-hero Ralph Nader's numbers, Democrats still ruled electorally that year.

Unlike some other counties surrounding Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, the rural population of this Southwestern Pennsylvania county is never going to swing a statewide election. But while no one was looking, it has started to vote for Republicans in state and county elections.

The story buried by the national media's fixation with Hillary Clinton's next move is the solid bench that Republicans have been efficiently building — not just in Democrat-blue Pennsylvania, but across the country — since her husband left office in 2000.

Even in “blue” New York you can look at a county such as Ulster, which went for Obama by 23 points but where the county legislature is 12-11 Republican. It's a pattern that pops up all over the state.

“The presidency is one election, and Democrats and Republicans have basically been alternating it for the better part of a decade now,” said Sean Trende, elections analyst at RealClearPolitics. “But it is the GOP that is ascendant down-ballot.”

Trende explains that, in 2010, Republicans won around 54 percent of state House and Senate seats nationally; the number fell slightly in 2012, to 53 percent of state Senate and 52 percent of state House seats.

“Part of the disparity comes from the fact that not all the state Senate seats were up in 2012,” he said. “But overall, Democrats pay the same penalty in state legislative districts that they pay in congressional districts” — their coalition has become too geographically concentrated to function well in legislative races.

Clearly, the GOP connects with voters, given its down-ballot strength, said Trende: “You can't have total control of government in a near-majority of the states in the country without some ability to connect.”

“While the pundits and the media pronounce on the divisions in the GOP and how these will ultimately wipe out the Republicans, I've been looking at some numbers and they look pretty good,” Iowa State University political science professor Steffen Schmidt said about the GOP bench.

He points to 30 out of 50 governorships controlled by Republicans, 233 U.S. House members out of 435, and 24 state governments controlled by both GOP governors and legislative majorities.

“So while Obama got a second term, the Democrats did second-rate in a majority of contests,” he said.

Democrats had a once-in-a-lifetime candidate with Barack Obama. It remains to be seen if Hillary Clinton is the same; remember, she has been running for president essentially since 2004, when some Democrats floated her as an alternative to a weak John Kerry, and in her own right in her failed attempt of 2008 — and, basically, every moment since.

“Democrats have had a more difficult time finding well-known, emerging stars to replace their aging party leaders such as the Clintons,” said Jeff Brauer, a Keystone College political scientist.

According to Schmidt, “Republicans are a divided but diverse party that seems to connect well, or its local candidates do, with municipal, county, and state voters.”

And according to Brauer, the Republicans' current strength at the state level could very well mean future strength at the national level.

“Party success at the state and local levels builds all-important party infrastructure for elections and creates a large pool of formidable future candidates for national office,” he said.

Salena Zito covers politics for Trib Total Media. (412-320-7879 or [email protected])

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.