In Pennsylvania, Voters Turn Against Democrats

Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008 with 55 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania. John Kerry won the state four years earlier — and Al Gore before him. But today, disheartened voters are turning against the president and his party. Republicans are poised to pick up a Senate seat, the governor's office, the state assembly, and as many as six U.S. House seats.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

This year's midterm elections are looking tough for Democrats, even in states that have been consistently blue. Exhibit A: Pennsylvania. Barack Obama won the state in 2008, as did John Kerry and Al Gore in the two previous presidential elections. And if that's not enough, 12 of the state's 19 congressional seats are now held by Democrats, as are the governor's office and both U.S. Senate seats.

But today, polls show potential for a big shift, as NPR political correspondent Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA: With its mix of rural and industrial, mining and manufacturing, big cities and sprawling suburbs, Pennsylvania is a natural as a battleground state. But this season, the pendulum seems a more apt metaphor. And with hard times hanging on as they are all across the so-called rustbelt, Pennsylvania seems poised for a potentially big swing back toward the GOP.

(Soundbite of whistle)

GONYEA: At a high school soccer game, the Crestwood Comets versus the Lake-Lehman Knights in the town of Mountain Top in the northeast part of the state, retiree Florance Troyan is here to watch her grandson play. She says these are though times around here.

Ms. FLORENCE TROYAN: They can't afford to send their kids to college even. Or even if they go to college, they don't have a job when they get out. I have four grandsons. My one grandson went in the army to get money to go to college.

GONYEA: She says now he's graduated and can't find work. Troyan is a Democrat who says she's thinking of voting for the Republican for Congress this year just to shake things up. And that even though she says she still supports President Obama.

Congressman Paul Kanjorski is seeking his 14th term as a Democrat in the 11th District of Pennsylvania. In the bleachers watching the game is Republican voter Pat Henry, a sales manager who says something's got to change.

Mr. PAT HENRY: It's not a Republican-Democrat thing. It's right or wrong. And right now, we're going in the absolute wrong direction. We're putting the debt on the shoulders of our grandchildren.

GONYEA: Also at the game is Jim Paulson, a plumber and a Democrat who says he knows there's a strong urge to send Washington a message and to bring in some fresh faces. But...

Mr. JIM PAULSON: I don't know why, because, I mean, I don't what the Republicans would offer. I mean, you know, in two years they basically haven't offered anything except resistance.

GONYEA: Congressman Kanjorski had a tough reelection fight two years ago, so the economy is not his only problem. But it's still the big one in a state that polls show could send five or six fewer Democrats to Congress this election.

Terry Madonna is a political analyst at Franklin and Marshall College.

Mr. TERRY MADONNA (Political Analyst, Franklin and Marshall College): Voters in Pennsylvania are deeply concerned about the fact that despite spending $2 trillion, the recession continues. They are not optimistic that we will be out of the recession anytime soon.

GONYEA: And Madonna says the Tea Party movement is also having an impact in Pennsylvania this year but not by supporting candidates who pulled big upsets in primaries, as we've seen in Alaska, Delaware and elsewhere.

Mr. MADONNA: Look, we have hundreds of little Tea Parties in Pennsylvania. In this state, they are making the Republican base very enthusiastic.

GONYEA: The Flamingo Diner on Route 11 in the working class town of West Nanticoke is also in the 11th district. Manager Lisa Curtin says it's not unusual for people to talk politics or the tea party over breakfast.

Ms. LISA CURTIN (Manager, The Flamingo Diner): A lot of times, lot of times. We hear them sitting here arguing and then bickering and then agreeing. I have to kind of butt out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GONYEA: Her brother in law Bob Curtin is an electrical contractor. His business is way down. He says he's not a Tea Party member, but he likes their message. He's a registered Democrat. His vote this year?

Mr. BOB CURTIN (Electrical Contractor): I'm not sure. I'm very up in the air right now what I'm going to do. I cant say that Im decisive on anything right now as far as, you know, who Im going to vote for. But Im going to vote.

GONYEA: But he says he's not happy with the Democrats.

Seated three stools over is retiree Mike Oktishuk, who chimes in with some pride that he didn't vote for President Obama.

Mr. MIKE OKTISHUK: When you hear Obama say they dug a big hole for us, and we got a big job just trying to fix it, I think its baloney when they say that.

GONYEA: And in a place like this, it's not hard to find out why the president's case that he inherited such a huge problem and that a robust recovery will take time offers little solace for people.

Forty-eight-year-old Jeff Hardy talks quietly as he finishes up his meal. He's a college graduate, computer science back in 1985. Ask him what he does for a living and he says he's underemployed.

Mr. JEFF HARDY (Factory Worker): Im working in a factory. Its hard, sweaty work. I make about $9-10 an hour, depending on how much we do. We package dog food for Wal-Mart.

GONYEA: For Hardy, patience is a luxury he can't even think about, let alone afford. He says he's a longtime independent voter. He supported Barack Obama in 08. Now he says he has no faith in Republicans or Democrats.

Mr. HARDY: I wish there was someone that was concerned about jobs, that was concerned about education. I wish there was someone who cared about the working people.

GONYEA: And with the Democratic Party controlling congress and so many governorships, it's democrats who'll likely suffer the consequences of such frustration come November.

The key to every election is to motivate your voters. That task is especially hard for Democrats in places like Pennsylvania, where good times seem very far away.

Don Gonyea, NPR News.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.