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Pennsylvania’s political diversity helps Obama, says Vanderbilt professor

Apr. 11, 2008, 6:13 PM

A Vanderbilt University political scientist says the largely white, affluent suburbs around Philadelphia could boost Barack Obama’s chances of a surprise win in the April 22 Pennsylvania Democratic primary.

“These are the formerly rock-ribbed Republican suburbs where there is now a strong anti-war sentiment,” said Marc Hetherington, an associate professor of political science at Vanderbilt who grew up around Pennsylvania politics. “Obama could generate strong support in the Philadelphia suburbs as well as among the city’s large African-American population.”

This contrasts with the western part of Pennsylvania, where white working-class voters who have felt the pains of a slumping economy seem more comfortable with Hillary Clinton. And a remaining question mark for the candidates, Hetherington says, is the Democratic voters’ preferences in the less-populated, rural center of the state.

“Pennsylvania is generally considered a blue state since Clinton, Gore and Kerry all carried it in the past presidential elections, but the contests were remarkably close,” Hetherington said. “Other statewide races going back to the 1950s have tended to go for moderate to liberal Republicans.”

Hetherington believes that if Obama should win Pennsylvania, Clinton’s campaign is effectively done, but that does not mean that she will withdraw from the race. “She is unlikely to pull out because her supporters have invested hundreds of millions of dollars along with much time and effort in her campaign,” he said. “She could stick around hoping for that revelation about Obama that opens the door for her again.”

Whatever happens, Hetherington believes that the rift between the Clinton and Obama supporters will heal once Democratic voters consider the deeper split between the Democratic and Republican parties on key issues in 2008. He said that the average Republican in Congress is more different from his Democratic counterpart than voters have seen in about 100 years.

On the other hand, John McCain is the type of Republican, Hetherington said, who could attract more moderate Democrats and independents in Pennsylvania, especially if hard feelings linger between the Clinton and Obama camps going into the general campaign.

Media contact: Ann Marie Deer Owens, (615) 322-NEWS