GOP Looks for Big Gains in Pennsylvania

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. — Two years after Pennsylvania gave its 21 electoral votes to Barack Obama and four years after it elected a new Democratic senator and unseated four Republican congressmen, signs are strong that the Keystone State may be shifting into the Republican column this fall and in a big way.

Republicans candidates said the main reason for the change in fortunes was voters souring on President Obama, which won the state 54% to 44% over Sen. John McCain in 2008.
The most recent Rasmussen Poll showed that Republicans are favored to take both the seat of Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter (who lost the May primary to Rep. Joe Sestak), with conservative GOPer Pat Toomey leading Sestak by a margin of 45% to 39% statewide.

In the race for the governor, which Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell is relinquishing after eight years, Republican State Atty. Gen. Tom Corbett holds a healthy 49% to 33% lead over Democrat Dan Onorato, the Allegheny County executive.

In addition, after two straight election cycles of U.S. House seats in Pennsylvania going from Republican to Democrat (the GOP lost four House seats in the state in ’06, and one in ’08), both pundits and pols are saying that Republicans could pick up as many as seven in the state.

As if to underscore the national significance of House races in Pennsylvania, the conservative Eagle Forum organization held back-to-back fund-raising events in Pittsburgh on June 25 and Philadelphia on June 26. All proceeds from both events were to go exclusively to House candidates in the state.

At the Philadelphia event, venerable conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly told HUMAN EVENTS that she was putting such emphasis on Pennsylvania because “my people tell me we can win the most House seats there. They say in Illinois [Republicans] could gain three or four [Democratic-held] House seats and in California, one or two.  But here, they say we could win seven.”

Schlafly’s political analysis echoed that of Dick Morris at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference (PLC) in Harrisburg in April, when the Fox News commentator predicted a flat-out net gain of seven House seats for Republicans from Pennsylvania alone.

The national impact of such a political “sea change” from Pennsylvania cannot be over emphasized. Were as many House seats to “flip” as Schlafly and Morris were saying, the state would be a major player in Republicans gaining the 39 seats they need to retake control of the House after four years. Moreover, a “Gov. Corbett” and “Sen. Toomey” at the helm of a revitalized GOP could go a long way toward putting the state’s electoral votes back in the Republican column for the first time since 1988.

Republicans said the tide that seems to be sweeping their state could put the state House of Representatives (currently 104 Democrats outnumbering 98 Republicans) into the GOP column.  Coupled with the present Republican-run state Senate and a “Gov. Corbett,” this would spell a strong Republican hand in the reapportionment process in 2011, when the next U.S. Census is likely to cost the state one of its 21 House members.

Obama’s the Main Reason

GOP House nominees attending the Eagle Forum events told HUMAN EVENTS that their chances and Republican strength in general were enhanced by Barack Obama and his performance as President so far.

Former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, who is trying to retake the 8th District (Bucks County) seat he lost to Democrat Pat Murphy in ’06, said: “Obama’s numbers in our poll [by veteran GOP pollster Neil Newhouse] on the healthcare issue were high, but then dropped to 50-50 during the debate and vote on the health care bill this year. Voters want it repealed in a big way and that’s always been my position.”

“It’s not just health care that has Obama and the Democrats down,” said former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan, GOP nominee for the open 7th District (Delaware County) relinquished by Democratic Senate hopeful Sestak and which Obama carried with 56% of the vote in ’08. “It’s the direction the country is going in that has people nervous.”

Rep. Glenn Thompson, who is seeking re-election in the 5th District (in which John McCain defeated Obama by a margin of 55% to 44%), said that Obama would in all likelihood lose by a bigger margin today. 

Not only is the Republican base aroused by issues such as healthcare and cap and trade (“the war on the poor,” in Thompson’s words), the freshman lawmaker told me, but “Obama’s own base is upset because there are still troops in Afghanistan and oil drilling going on close to shores.”