The Washington Post

What Republicans in Pennsylvania have in common with Charlie Brown

The Fix grew up as a big Peanuts fan -- and specifically a Charlie Brown lover. (His nerdy cynicism appealed to the boyish Fix.)

And so, when we see two new independent polls in Pennsylvania -- one conducted by Quinnipiac University, the other by Muhlenberg College -- that show former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney well within striking distance of President Obama -- we think of Charlie Brown. And specifically his failed attempts to kick a football held by Lucy.

Forgot that moment? Thanks to the glory of You Tube we can all relive it together:

So what does Charlie Brown constantly being fooled by Lucy have to do with the tightening presidential race in Pennsylvania you ask?

Simple. Like Charlie Brown, Republicans convince themselves every four years that the math in Pennsylvania can add up to a majority for their candidate. And, every four years, Democrats pull the ball away at the last minute and carry the Keystone State.

Let's take a quick stroll through the recent electoral history of Pennsylvania. The last time a Republican won it at the presidential level was in 1988 when then Vice President George H.W. Bush took 51 percent of the vote. In the five elections since then the Republican nominee has won 36 percent, 40 percent, 46 percent, 48 percent and 44 percent in the state -- for an average over those five elections of just under 43 percent of the vote. (Worth noting: That average is artificially low due to the fact that in 1992 and 1996 Ross Perot's independent candidacy siphoned off a considerable percentage of the major party vote in Pennsylvania and elsewhere.)

The closest Republicans came during those five elections was in 2004 when George W. Bush lost the state by 144,000 votes (out of almost 5.8 million cast) to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry.

It's worth digging deeper into those 2004 results to understand why Republicans find the football, er, Pennsylvania so alluring but always wind up flat on their backs electorally speaking when all is said and done.

In that 2004 race, Bush won a majority of the counties in Pennsylvania -- basically everything in between Philadelphia in the east and Pittsburgh in the west. And yet, those two anchor cities on opposite sides of the state were more than enough to deliver the state to Kerry.

Here's a look at the four major counties in those two regions and how the 2004 vote broke out.

* Allegheny (Pittsburgh): Kerry 363,674 (57%), Bush 268,387 (42%)

* Philadelphia (Philly): Kerry 517,054 (80%), Bush 124,710 (19%)

* Delaware (inner Philly suburbs): Kerry 157,531 (57%), Bush 116,728 (42%)

* Montgomery (inner Philly suburbs): Kerry 217,342 (56%), Bush 172,206 (44%)

Roughly 43 percent of all Kerry's vote in the state of Pennsylvania came from those four counties. His margin over Bush in those four counties was 573,570 votes -- or roughly four times his overall statewide margin.

And that's Republicans' problem in Pennsylvania in a nutshell (This is Austin Powers in a nutshell). They win lots and lots of sparsely populated counties in the vast middle of the state but lose the big population counties in the east and west by such vast margins that the math just doesn't add up.

Could 2012 be different? Of course.  History is the best guide until it isn't anymore -- and states are always shifting due to demographic changes and the broader national political atmosphere.

But, for all the chatter of late about the competitiveness of Pennsylvania, there's very little evidence that Republicans are putting their money where their mouth is.

According to ad buy information provided to the Fix, Romney's campaign has yet to spend a dime in Pennsylvania on television and the panoply of conservative outside groups dumping cash into key states have combined to spend just $10 million. By way of comparison, Romney and outside GOP groups have already spent more than $68 million on ads in Ohio.

Is it possible that Romney's performance in the first debate coupled with ongoing economic unrest in Pennsylvania has turned the state into an emerging Republican opportunity? Sure.

But the weight of history and the lessons that Charlie Brown can teach us provide a strong counter-argument to the idea that Pennsylvania belongs in the narrow group of swing states this fall.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Comments
Show Comments
The Democrats debated Thursday night. Get caught up on the race.
The Post's Chris Cillizza on the Democratic debate...
On Clinton: She poked a series of holes in Sanders's health-care proposal and broadly cast him as someone who talks a big game but simply can't hope to achieve his goals.

On Sanders: If the challenge was to show that he could be a candidate for people other than those who already love him, he didn't make much progress toward that goal. But he did come across as more well-versed on foreign policy than in debates past.
The PBS debate in 3 minutes
Quoted
We are in vigorous agreement here.
Hillary Clinton, during the PBS Democratic debate, a night in which she and Sanders shared many of the same positions on issues
South Carolina polling averages
Donald Trump leads in the polls as he faces rivals Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz heading into the S.C. GOP primary on Feb. 20.
South Carolina polling averages
The S.C. Democratic primary is Feb. 27. Clinton has a significant lead in the state, whose primary falls one week after the party's Nevada caucuses.
62% 33%
Fact Checker
Trump’s claim that his border wall would cost $8 billion
The billionaire's claim is highly dubious. Based on the costs of the Israeli security barrier (which is mostly fence) and the cost of the relatively simple fence already along the U.S.-Mexico border, an $8 billion price tag is simply not credible.
Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio Pinocchio
Upcoming debates
Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

March 3: GOP debate

on Fox News, in Detroit, Mich.

Campaign 2016
Where the race stands
Most Read

politics

the-fix

Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.