Every four years during the presidential race it happens. I get phone calls and emails from Republican friends outside Pennsylvania, pleading, salivating, asking excitedly: “Hey, will Pennsylvania vote Republican?” They see a poll or something that raises their hopes. I’ve learned the hard way that the answer is always a big, fat, giant “No. No way. Not a chance. Don’t be stupid.”
And yet, this year, in the final weeks of the 2012 campaign, I reversed my usual spot-on pessimism. In fact, I even wrote a piece for American Spectator boldly predicting “Mitt Romney will win Pennsylvania.”
What a fool I was.
But why would I have said this? What prompted my hopeless idealism this time around?
The short answer is the reality that I thought I was seeing. Throughout this state, or at least much of it, I sensed an intense enthusiasm for the Republican nominee and a red-hot dislike for Obama. I saw Romney signs everywhere. Four years ago, even in my conservative town of Grove City, I saw Obama signs everywhere. Not this time.
One week before the election, as I hopped on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Breezewood, I was struck by giant billboards: “REAL Unemployment is 15 percent. FIRE OBAMA.” Another: “Vote CHANGE, Vote No-Obama.” I passed a minivan with writing on the back windshield: “$4.00 per gallon gasoline? Are you kidding me?! Get rid of Obama!”
Then there were the polls. Two Pennsylvania polls in the closing week of the campaign showed Romney and Obama dead even. That virtual tie, I figured, signaled a Romney win. Like many conservative pundits, I expected a turnout more akin to 2010 than 2008, which would dramatically favor Republicans.
And so, I was shocked on election night when Pennsylvania was immediately called for Obama.
Here are the facts: The initial reporting after the election said that Romney fared worse in Pennsylvania than John McCain had in 2008. We now know that wasn’t the case. Almost a month later, the near-final vote tally is in. In 2008, McCain got 2.65 million votes in Pennsylvania; in 2012, Romney got 2.67 million.
Still, many of us expected Romney would far surpass McCain’s total.
Consider Obama’s numbers in Pennsylvania. In 2008, Obama won the state by 10 points; in 2012, by 5. Obama took 18 Pennsylvania counties in 2008; in 2012, he won 13. In 2008, Obama got 3.28 million votes in this state; in 2012, he got 2.98 million.
OK, so how did Obama pull it out?
Three words: Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Philadelphia.
Obama won Philadelphia by nearly 500,000 votes. Some of the voting behavior there was outrageous. As The Philadelphia Inquirer reported, in 59 Philadelphia voting divisions, the vote total was 19,605 for Obama and zero for Romney. Yes, that’s right: zero for Romney.
In addition to Philadelphia, the vast majority of the 13 counties that voted Obama are in Eastern Pennsylvania, which, in effect, is basically New Jersey. The two Western Pennsylvania counties that went for Obama were Erie and Allegheny.
As for Allegheny, Mitt Romney, a wealthy Republican, did impressively well in this longtime Democrat stronghold, receiving 42 percent of the vote here.
But that couldn’t counter Philadelphia.
Mitt Romney put up a decent fight in Pennsylvania but his campaign didn’t turn ’em out. And that added up to yet another predictable presidential win for Democrats in Pennsylvania.
Paul Kengor is a professor of political science at Grove City College.