Newsweek: Pa. Trending Republican Because Dems Didn't Spend Enough Taxpayer Money On Rural Districts

Exploring the question, "Why Are Democrats Down in Pennsylvania?" Newsweek's Ben Adler determined the answer was fairly simple: not enough stimulus spending to benefit the rural areas of the Keystone State, which he says is "sometimes called 'Pennsyltucky'" by virtue of its being largely "white, rural, blue-collar, and poor":

The late congressman Jack Murtha was much beloved in his central Pennsylvania district for his ability to bring home the federal bacon. These voters are not opposed to government economic intervention in principle. But they grow skeptical when the economy is weak and interventions seem not to have worked, says Terry Madonna, who runs the Franklin & Marshall University poll on Pennsylvania politics.


“The perception of voters in the state is it hasn’t worked,” says Madonna. “Pennsylvanians are not inherently opposed to more stimulus spending. We asked in polls and they’re not averse, but it hasn’t produced what they see as recovery from the recession.”


With Pennsyltucky favoring Republicans this year, while Philadelphia stays reliably Democratic, the suburbs are the crucial swing territory. Demographically and culturally, the socially liberal and fiscally moderate Philadelphia suburbs belong to the Northeast. Similar areas in nearby New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and Maryland began shifting decades ago from Republican to Democratic. The Philadelphia suburbs have undergone the same transition, but more slowly. Specter, whose base was in that corner of the state, was one of the Senate’s last moderate Republicans. (Sestak defeated Specter, who switched parties last year, in the Democratic primary.) 


But with high concern about the deficit rising on the Democrats’ watch, suburban voters are also leaning more Republican than usual. “Forty to 45 percent of voters think deficits and debt are a problem,” says Madonna. “Independent voters in the suburbs of Philadelphia and the Lehigh Valley are the ones who are more concerned about the deficit.”


And thus Democrats are caught in an ironic bind: they spent a bunch of money to stave off economic collapse—too much for the tastes of upscale suburban voters but not enough to win over rural working-class voters. This phenomenon could continue to hobble Democrats and President Obama in this crucial swing state as they prepare for the 2012 presidential election. If they hold back on more stimulus spending, they may continue to be seen as ineffective economic stewards by Pennsylvania's rural voters, but more spending could alienate the suburban swing vote. As Madonna says, their position boils down to “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

In 1993, a Washington Post staffer infamously wrote of the religious right that they were "largely poor, uneducated and easy to command." Seventeen years later, Newsweek seems to think that rural voters are largely poor, politically illiterate, and easy to bribe with federal stimulus money, if only the Democrats weren't so stingy with taxpayer money.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.