There are two online articles today that take a closer look at the PA Democratic primary results, and even though they begin with different questions, obtain a similar answer.
TNR’s Noam Scheiber wants to know more about Barack Obama’s spotty performance in the Philadelphia suburbs, which surprised a lot of non-PA observers. He comes up with a couple of explanations, and this is the one I found particularly interesting:
Obama tends to win the counties that are either strongly Republican (like Lancaster) or strongly Democratic (like Delaware, or Philadelphia itself), while Hillary tends to do better in counties that are either narrowly Republican or narrowly Democratic—and, within that band, the more Democratic the better. Which makes sense. The narrowly Democratic counties have strong Democratic parties and are therefore places where [Gov. Ed] Rendell’s help would have really mattered.
Noam’s guess that relative weakness of the Rendell organization explains Obama’s relatively strong performance in heavily Republican Philly suburbs may be plausible, but we’ve seen this pattern before.
That brings me to Jay Cost’s article at RealClearPolitics. Jay does a careful and complex comparison of the vote in Ohio and Pennsylvania counties, and discovers, to his own surprise, that Barack Obama actually did better than expected in central Pennslyvania, and not just in university towns like State College.
[It] is noteworthy that central Pennsylvania is the most Republican part of the state. We have found again and again in this primary season that, outside of the South, white Democrats in heavily Republican areas tend to prefer Obama more than other areas. It is unclear what has caused this trend, but the observations in central Pennsylvania are consistent with it.
While Jay doesn’t get into explanations of the phenomenon in his article, it’s worth noting that in this state at least, it’s probably not attributable to tactical voting by Republicans, or to the legendary Republican Hillary-hatred. PA held a closed primary, and moreover, it’s not one of those EZ-Re-Registration states where GOPers can stroll to the polls and become a Democrat-For-A-Day. Something else is going on here, and as Jay notes, it’s a national pattern, at least outside the South.
Obama-skeptics rightly point out the general-election irrelevance of his primary and caucus strength in “Republican states.” But they sometimes forget that there are “Republican areas” in battleground states, and that in the end, a vote is a vote.