Politics

Pennsylvania Weigh-In (UPDATED All Day)

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania –With about eighteen hours left before the voting begins in the Democratic presidential primary today, one expert on voting trend flatly predicted to me yesterday that Hillary Clinton would decisively defeat Barack Obama. That, of course, isn’t fresh stuff. What is fresh about George Marlin’s analysis is who he feels will provide that margin: blue collar Roman Catholics, widely known in the 1980’s as "Reagan Democrats."

"Blue collar Catholics here don’t really have a choice between Clinton and Obama," Marlin, author of The Catholic Voter in the Twenty-First Century and a seasoned political analyst, told me over lunch at Le Castagne restaurant here, "So they’ll go for Clinton. They are older, and that’s a major factor. And they are blue collar Catholics, not ‘Yuppie Catholics’ — that group has moved on to greener pastures. So the Reagan Democrats won’t vote for Obama, whom they perceive as a ‘Yuppie liberal.’"

Marlin cited statistics from the 2004 election, in which Democratic nominee John Kerry –himself a Catholic — carried historically Republican, upscale counties such as Bucks (51.5%), Delaware (57.2%), and Montgomery (55.5%) over George W. Bush, a Protestant. However, Bush carried historically blue-collar Democratic counties such as Schuylkill (54.6%), Lehigh (48.5%), Northampton (49.0%), and Westmoreland (55.9%). (Writing in his study of the Catholic voter, Marlin concluded that this was "proof that cultural issues took precedence over monetary ones" and that Bush "carried (or nearly carried) the overwhelmingly Democratic, economically depressed coal and steel regions while he actually lost the wealthy Republican ‘Main Line’ counties to John Kerry."

Translated into ’08 and a Democratic primary, Marlin concluded, "Hillary will go over the top and have to thank blue-collar, Roman Catholic voters for it.She will have a big night Tuesday, thanks to ‘Reagan Democrats.’"

As for the endorsement of Obama by Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. — himself a champion of blue-collar Catholics, Marlin was dismissive. In his words, "he simply did this to stick it in the ear of the Clintons, who kept his father from addressing the Democratric National Convention, and to [Pennsylvania Gov. Ed] Rendell, who defeated him for the nomination for governor and is supporting Clinton." Marlin feels Casey’s endorsement will not help Obama much in the primary. 

But, he quickly added, "Democrats should not get overly exuberant over this." Marlin feels that in November, if McCain emphasizes cultural issues in his clash with either Obama or Clinton, "he will peel off these voters, as Bush did, in a classic realignment and will carry Pennsylvania."

A Teacher Hails Hillary, A Councilman Boosts Barack

Oxford, Penn.– (Susan [she doesn’t want her last name used] is a retired public school teacher in Oxford, Pennsylvania, a Democratic volunteer for decades, and a supporter of Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania’s Democratic primary April 22. Andrew Atkinson currently teaches in the public school system in Oxford, is an elected borough councilman there, and a vigorous Barack Obama booster. Thanks to Valerie Kegley, past Oxford School Board president (and herself a Republican!), I was able to talk both and learn some of the things that motivate backers of each Democratic candidate in the crucial Pennsylvania vote on Tuesday)

"FROM JFK TO BILL AND HILLARY"

When her classmates in college posted pictures of rock ‘n roll stars on their walls, Susan recalled, "I was putting up pictures of John Kennedy." Forty-eight years later, she vividly remembered the moment in 1960 when her father brought her to a union hall in Bristol, Pennsylvania to hear Kennedy address a rally. JFK got Susan hooked on politics and, a dozen years later, her fierce opposition to the Vietnam War led her to walk precincts and do other volunteer chores for anti-war candidate George McGovern.

A former Young Democrat and card-carrying member of the National Education Association, Susan divides her feelings about presidential candidates between those she simply supported (Hubert Humphrey in 1968, Michael Dukakis in 1988, Al Gore in 2000) and those she was truly passionate about — JFK, Robert Kennedy, McGovern, and Bill Clinton.

"Yes, I was very excited about Bill Clinton," Susan told me during a break from mowing her lawn, "I thought we needed a centrist and I sensed real electricity with his candidacy. I think he governed well. Look at how he got ahead of the deficit."

So who is Susan for on Tuesday?

"I will vote for Hillary Clinton," she replied without hesitation, motivated in part by admiration for the New York senator’s husband and her belief that "perhaps it’s time for a woman President." She also believes that Sen. Clinton’s "qualifications are superior to Sen. Obama’s. Look, I am not one of the frenzied masses who thinks Barack Obama is the second coming of John or Robert Kennedy. His lack of experience is an issue he will have to deal with."

But Susan also believes her candidate has an issue to deal with in terms of questions about her electability in the fall. She also feels that Clinton’s "campaign was poorly run by someone who made bad decisions. They did not realize Obama’s strength."

She feels Clinton and Obama are "close on the issues" and their contest "is not a clear-cut choice." Should Clinton lose the nomination to Obama, would she consider voting for John McCain? "No way," she says.

"Obama’s Inclusive — Like Reagan"

In discussing why he is strongly for Barack Obama, 29-year-old Borough Councilman Andrew Atkinson referred to the high school students he teaches in public school.

"They’re for Obama and very excited about him," says Atkinson, "And it says a lot that he’s inspiring them. They just don’t say they like him because they think ‘he’s cool.’ They like him because he’s someone who they feel they can trust. And that sure is important because, almost daily, I hear about politicians and so many young people say ‘they can’t be trusted — all of them.’"

Aside from the way Obama has inspired the young people Atkinson teaches, he told me he decided to support the Illinois senator for President because "I believe he is an inclusive person. He listens to opposing views. That was one of the great things about Ronald Reagan, also an inclusive person."

Atkinson added that he has two brothers in uniform and that he is "100% behind our troops in Iraq. It’s going to take some tough policy decisions to see that situation to a close and I feel Senator Obama can make those decisions."

Will Obama’s statement about blue collar voters being "bitter" come back to bite him on April 22? "No," says Atkinson, "’Bitter’ was a poor choice of words. But what Senator Obama was saying was that blue collar workers here are upset and there’s nothing wrong with that." 

Like just about everyone else I talked to in this part of Pennsylvania, Atkinson feels the race between Obama and Clinton next week is too close to call. The councilman conceded that Clinton could win because "older women are very supportive of her. They have known her and feels she speaks for them.I definitely know so because I have talked to a lot of them." 

But, he quickly added, "I’m optimistic, so I think Obama will win."

Clinton Will Win Pennsylvania By 3-to-5%, But Obama Will Win by N.C., Says Bill Green
 
Philadelphia, Penn.– For generations, the name William Green has packed a political wallop in Philadelphia. William Green, Jr. was the powerful Democratic City Chairman and longtime congressman until his death in 1963. His son, William, III, was just finishing law school at the time and succeeded the elder Green as congressman at age 25. William, III also became city Democratic chairman, lost a close U.S. Senate seat in 1976, and served as mayor of Philadelphia from 1979-83.
 
So when I sat down with City Councilman William Green, IV ("Please — it’s Bill Green") at his office at City Hall yesterday, I was talking to the heir to quite a political legacy.  At 43, Bill Green is in his first year as councilman and, just as his father campaigned for Robert Kennedy’s insurgent presidential bid in 1968, Bill is backing Barack Obama in the primary April 22.
 
"Senator Clinton will win by less than 5% — probably 3-to-5%, but the nomination is out of reach for her," Green told me, predicting that Obama will "have the nomination wrapped up by the time the North Carolina primary rolls around in May."
 
Although polls show Clinton leading Obama by much larger margins, Green pointed out that polling "does not take into account the under-25-year-old voters who have cellphones only. They won’t show up on pollsters’ charts because they only poll people with landphones." He added that Obama might well have overtaken Clinton were it not for his performance in the televised debate here last Wednesday.
 
"That cost him, probably with undecided voters," said the councilman, "but I blame [ABC-TV moderators] George Stephanopolous and Charlie Gibson for focusing so many questions on distractions and things Senator Obama has addressed eloquently." He was referring to questions about controversial Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Obama’s reference to "bitter" voters in Pennsylvania. Green said the two moderators did a "disservice" by not having more discussion on issues such as health care, education, and fighting poverty.
 
Green made no secret of his distaste for both Bill and Hillary Clinton, expressing his view that the Clintons have a "kitchen sink strategy to undermine Obama’s campaign in the general election" and thus pave the way for another bid by the New York senator in 2012. He noted that while Bill Clinton was president, "he gave [Hillary Clinton] responsiblity over the White House Travel Office and health care. So we had ‘Travelgate’ and a failed health care proposal." Of recent campaign addresses in Pennsylvania in which Bill Clinton spoke "with conviction" of his wife being tested, Green said "I don’t people who take seriously anything he says…"
 
When I cited political scientist George Marlin’s unqualified prediction of a Clinton win by 8-to-10 points on the basis of votes from blue collar Democrats, Green countered: "If this were an ordinary year with an ordinary kind of turnout, I would agree. But with the young people getting excited and all the new voters, it’s not an ordinary race." 

"Hardest Race I’ve Ever Called," Says "Old Pro" at Pennsy Politics, But "It’s Clinton by 3.8%"

Philadelphia, Penn. — I had to wait until the coffee and desert came before James Baumbach — Philadelphia "superlawyer" and seasoned political operative for more than a generation — got to his prediction on the Democratic presidential primary today.

Following a most enjoyable dinner at his personal table at the Palm Restaurant here, Baumbach finally got around to what I was anxiously waiting for. The man who had quarterbacked campaigns for the late Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey, Sr. and Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo has no dog in the Clinton-Obama race tomorrow and conceded "this is the hardest race I’ve ever called."

"But it’s Clinton by about 3.8%," Baumbach finally said. With hours to go before the voting started, he pointed out that since the 1970’s, Western Pennsylvania has lost 400,000 people and Eastern Pennsylvania gained 900,000. Eastern Pennsylvania, in Baumbach’s words, "is Allegheny County, blue collar and rural counties — it’s the Midwest there." Those kind of voters, he feels, "should give Clinton a narrow edge."

But Baumbach gave himself some elbow room, as he noted that the former First Lady was returning on primary eve to Scranton. "That’s an area that she claims as home because her father is from there and it should be her territory," he noted, "So did she fly back there so recently to campaign unless she’s worried and her polls show something bad?"

Like Philadelphia City Councilman Bill Green at an interview earlier in the day, Baumbach pointed out that there are 310,000 new registered Democrats in the state since November of last year and that could work to Obama’s favor. "At least half of them are young people who live in university communities forty miles from here [Philadelphia]," he said, "and these are also  voters who primarily have cellphones and not land lines. That makes them difficult to poll."

"So I think Clinton should win, but there are so many unknown factors that it wouldn’t surprise me if it went the other way," Baumbach said, and again repeated "This is the hardest race I’ve ever called."


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