50 States in 50 Days Election Preview: 2. Pennsylvania

In the 50 days leading up to the election on November 6th, I will be doing a profile of the 50 states and previewing what is on the ballot and how they are likely to vote. Previous posts can be found here

2. Pennsylvania

Capital: Harrisburg

Nickname: The Keystone State

Motto: Virtue, Liberty and Independence

About the State

Officially the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, it was the second state to ratify the constitution, doing so five days after Delaware.  It is the 33rd biggest state of the US in area and has the 6th largest population, with around 12.7 million residents.  Before being colonised by the Dutch and the English, the land that now makes up Pennsylvania was home to several Native American tribes, including the Lenape, Susquehannock and Shawnee.  In 1681, the land was granted to William Penn by Charles II of England – to repay a debt he had owed of £16,000 to Penn’s father – and it was the King who gave the name of Pennsylvania.  Penn – a Quaker who had experienced persecution because of his faith – believed in religious freedom, was an early proponent of democracy, and wished to form a friendship with the Lenape tribe upon his arrival in Pennsylvania, so made payment to them for the land despite his royal charter.  Penn also planned the city of Philadelphia, which served as the capital of the United States between 1790 to 1800 and was the place both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written.  One of the most important conflicts of the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg, took place in southern Pennsylvania and President Lincoln’s address there at the dedication of the cemetery is perhaps the most iconic speech in the history of the United States of America.

Both manufacturing and agriculture are major industries in Pennsylvania, with the former being concentrated in the urban corners of the state, with the central areas being more rural.  US Steel and Heinz are based in Pittsburgh in the Southwest, General Electric’s Transportation Services are in Erie, and Philadelphia is the home of Comcast, GlaxoSmithKline and several other Fortune 500 companies.  Pennsylvania farmers are the top producers of mushrooms in the United States; rank second in apples; fourth for milk, and the state also grows the third most Christmas trees in the country.

After Wal-Mart, the largest employer in the Keystone State is the University of Pennsylvania, while Philadelphia and Pittsburgh provide a home for seven “Big-Four” sports teams: Phillies, Pirates (MLB); Eagles, Steelers (NFL); Flyers, Penguins (NHL); and the 76ers (NBA).  Philadelphia sides were supposedly jinxed by the “Curse of Billy Penn” after a city bylaw, stating that no building could be taller than the height of the statue of William Penn that is on top of City Hall, was revoked and a skyscraper exceeded that mark in 1987.  In 2007, a small figure of Penn was added to the roof of the Comcast building, which was the new tallest tower in the city, and the following year the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series.

The only President to have been born in Pennsylvania was James Buchanan, while Vice-President Biden was born and raised in Scranton, before making his home in Delaware.  The state has the second largest population of Amish people in the USA, with only Ohio having more, and the world’s most famous Groundhog – Punxsutawney Phil.

2012 Election

Presidential Race

Electoral College Votes: 20

2008 Result: Obama 54.7% McCain 44.3%

Latest Poll: Obama +11%

Democrats enjoy support in and around Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Scranton and Allentown, while the Republicans are more popular in the rural areas of the state.  Pennsylvania is still considered a swing state, despite not having voted for a Republican Presidential candidate since 1988.  This time around, there is a large focus on Pennsylvania because of the controversial voter ID law that was passed there, with the express intention of securing the state for Mitt Romney.  If President Obama fails to win the 20 Electoral College Votes available here, his chances of winning a second term will be very slim.

Also on the Ballot

Congress: Senator Bob Casey (D) is seeking re-election to a second term, after he defeated the then incumbent, Rick Santorum, in 2006.  Casey has a double-digit lead in the polls over his Republican challenger, Tom Smith, a former Coal executive.

After the 2010 census, the House has been reapportioned to follow changes in population, thus Pennsylvania will have one less Congressman (down to 18) starting in January 2013.  Of the incumbents: Mark Critz (D) is in a close race with Keith Rothfus (R) in the 12th District; while the Republicans in the 6th (Jim Gerlach) and 8th (Mike Fitzpatrick) are most vulnerable to lose their seats to Democrats.

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