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PA Elections: Making History?

Is Pennsylvania on the verge of making election history this fall?

WCU political scientist John J. Kennedy thinks it's possible - after all, he wrote the book on Pennsylvania Elections (University Press of American, Inc.). The revised edition was released in September.

"We are on the precipice of an historical event, with a real possibility that an incumbent governor may be defeated," Kennedy noted in an interview a few weeks ago. Control of the office has alternated between the two major parties every eight years since the 1950s - until now.

For 20 years, Kennedy has been researching what drives the Pennsylvania electorate while comparing state and national voting trends. He's researched such linkages as those among Pennsylvania's widely different regional economies, candidates' use of media, and partisan alignment. This new edition of his book includes 2010 census data and elections from 1950 through 2012, covering 32 election cycles, analyzing 106 individual statewide races, and compiling election data within each of the state's 67 counties.

In the preface to his book, Kennedy said he became interested in the Commonwealth's politics not only because of the national importance of the state but because it "provided a significant relevancy historically while also possessing a tradition of colorful politicians that are unrivaled anywhere else."

Why start the project with 1950? Because that's when we became a two-party state, he explained. Prior to 1950, Republicans controlled the state's politics as well as its major commercial interests: manufacturing, railroads and oil.

The Democrats were finally able to compete statewide once they captured Philadelphia in the early 1950s. "Philadelphia is today the most Democratic city in the U.S.," Kennedy said. "A Republican hasn't been elected mayor since 1947, and they haven't won any election city-wide since 1985."

It's now been over a quarter-century since the Republicans carried Pennsylvania at the presidential level. In order for them to turn the state red again, he noted, they must halt the hemorrhaging of votes in the Philadelphia suburbs. Kennedy concludes that in 2016, when we elect our next president, no one younger than 46 will have voted "in an election in which the Republican presidential candidate carried the Commonwealth."

If current trends continue, "Pennsylvania's status as a bellwether state will become even more of a distant memory as its once purple tint will appear even more solidly blue."

An associate professor at West Chester, Kennedy also wrote The Contemporary Pennsylvania Legislature (1999). He is on the executive board of the Pennsylvania Political Science Association and is a charter member of the Pennsylvania Policy Forum.