Based on the comments
people made in regard to my last post
on Pennsylvania, I'd like to toss in a few more thoughts.
The Rendell factor: Gov. Rendell has been pushing a tax plan which raises income & sales taxes but lowers property taxes. As I understand things, the income tax hike is designed to pay for educational spending, while the property tax cuts will allegedly be made up with revenues from slot machines (which Rendell is pushing to have legalized). In the comments, Jeff in PA says that suburban Republicans who supported Rendell in 2002 (when he won 53-45) are likely to pay the most and benefit the least from these proposals. If these "Rendellicans" turn on the Governor, they may take out their dissatisfaction on the Democratic presidential candidate next year.
: Jgkojak says there is a fear that Dem turnout, which was high in 2000, has "nowhere to go but down". I may be comparing apples to oranges here, but I'm not sure the numbers bear this out. Overall turnout among registered voters in the counties that went for Gore in 2000 was 62%. Overall statewide
turnout was... 63%. Perhaps Democrats did turn out in greater numbers than usual - I'm not really sure what the right way to determine this is. (That joint degree at the Public Policy School is starting to look very useful right about now.) If anyone can offer greater clarity on the turnout number-crunching, I'd be grateful.
Steel tariffs: I totally neglected this topic my first time out. CW is that Bush Administration enacted these tariffs to win support among steel workers in states like PA and WV. Well, file this one with the "Hoist by Their Own Petard" Dept. Not only did the tariffs fail to win over unionized steelworkers - the United Steelworkers of America endorsed Gephardt in August - but, unsurprisingly, they've hurt manufacturers who use steel, especially in the swing states of Michigan and Tennessee. Now, almost everyone on the right is admitting that the tariffs were a big mistake. If the Bush Admin. rescinds these them (and it appears they might), this will only further damage the Republicans in WV and PA. At the same time, it may be too late to see the steel-using manufacturers make big recoveries if the tariffs are lifted. (Thanks to praktite for some color on the steel labor scene.)
Unemployment: Seems that the Bureau of Labor Statistics info is, in a way, only so much BS. As you may know, "unemployment" figures only count people who are looking for work. This makes sense in some cases - for example, you wouldn't want to count a stay-at-home mom as "unemployed". But when you figure things this way, you also don't count people who have simply given up looking for a job. In January, 2001, for example, rural Forest County had the worst rate of unemployment in PA - an abysmal 16.9%. In August, the official unemployment rate had sunk to 9.3% - a seemingly stunning improvement.
But if you actually look at the facts on the ground, these numbers seem to lie. Rural Pennsylvania, like the rest of rural America, is hemorrhaging jobs and brainpower. And if you check out the Erie Times-News article, you'll note that even Rep. John Peterson - who's about as conservative as they come - acknowledges that his district is in "serious trouble". The last three elected incumbents who lost (Bush I, Carter and Hoover) all did so in the midst of economic downturns. If otherwise loyal Republican voters are feeling this kind of pain, I can't imagine how Bush will be able to deal with it. And this doesn't even account for the anger of Democrats who have lost their jobs. (Peterson story thanks to seamus.)
Senate race: There's some speculation that Rove is behind Rep. Pat Toomey's right-wing attack on Specter. Whatever the case may be, it looks like things are gearing up for a delightful fratricidal GOP primary battle. I find it amusing that Toomey is using slogans like "too liberal for too long" to describe Arlen Specter - I think George Pataki used to say the same thing about Mario Cuomo, so at least Specter's in good company. Anyhow, if the conservative establishment pushes Toomey to victory, I think the Democrats could definitely pick up this seat if they can find a strong candidate. And even if Toomey doesn't win, Specter's unfavorables will get driven up amidst the negative campaigning (as he tries to cover his right flank), and the True Believers may just stay home on election day if their man Toomey isn't on the ballot.
All this is making me feel a bit more optimistic about PA. I'd say our biggest obstacles are a Rendell tax-hike-related backlash against Dems, plus Bush's natural incumbency advantages. But I think they are outweighed by voter unhappiness with Bush (approve/disapprove: 51/44), coupled with unemployment issues. These should combine to keep PA in Democratic hands in 2004.