POLITICS FEBRUARY 24, 2010
Scott Brown did not win in Massachusetts because Democrat Martha Coakley believed that Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling liked the Yankees. If you want to see the same chilling pattern that elected Brown in erstwhile Democratic Massachusetts, look at the latest Franklin and Marshall poll on Pennsylvania politics. Pennsylvania has voted for a Democratic president since 1992. It has two Democratic senators, a Democratic governor, and its congressional delegation consists of twelve Democrats to seven Republicans. It’s a Democratic state.
It’s also very typical of the Rust Belt/Midwestern states that Democrats need to win to take national elections. Its electorate is 82 percent white. Three quarters of its citizens did not graduate from college. Among states, it has the fourth highest number of union members. Democrats win elections there when they take close to half of the white vote--Barack Obama got 48 percent in 2008--and well over half of the voters from union households. That hasn’t been hard in the last elections, but it has suddenly become very difficult indeed.
According to the Franklin and Marshall poll, which surveyed 1,143 residents of Pennsylvania, former Representative Pat Toomey--a Republican disciple of Steve Forbes and the Club for Growth--leads Democratic Senator Arlen Specter in the senate race by 44 to 34 percent among likely voters. He leads Democratic Representative Joe Sestak by 38 to 20 percent. If you want to get really worried about Democratic prospects, look at the breakdown. Toomey leads Specter among whites by 53 to 24 percent and among voters from union households by 44 to 41 percent. The only groups among whom Specter does well (besides registered Democrats) are non-whites and people with no religious affiliation. He’s got that vaunted McGovern coalition wrapped up. Sestak, of course, does even worse, but he is still an unknown quantity in Pennsylvania. Specter and Toomey, who has run before, are well known to Pennsylvania voters.
If you really want to get depressed, look at the findings about the Tea Party movement. Sixty-two percent of Pennsylvanians know something about the Tea Party movement. Of these, 85 percent of Republicans, 58 percent of Independents, and 28 percent of Democrats (!) either strongly or somewhat support the movement. You can say that most voters don’t know how wacky some of the Tea Party’s ideas are, but what they do know is that it stands in strident opposition to the Obama administration and the status quo in Washington. That should be enough to send shivers through the timbers of Democrats in Washington.
John B. Judis is a senior editor at The New Republic and a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.