Hillary Clinton got a temporary boost out of Pennsylvania last night, and today, her surrogates are likely to be arguing to superdelegates that her comfortable victory in a swing state is yet more proof that she is the superior general election candidate. But the risk of sounding like one of those baseball nerds who try to argue that the score of the game is not so important as other arcane metrics—“Look closely: the Mets drew more walks!”—let me ask your indulgence as I delve a little deeper into last night’s results.
I don’t purport to be an expert on voting patterns or demographic trends. But I do know one place in Pennsylvania pretty well: Delaware County, which encompasses the western suburbs of Philadelphia. I used to cover part of it for the Philadelphia Inquirer back when I was younger and that paper still had legions of reporters in the ‘burbs. I watched the returns from Delco closely last night, for reasons that were more than parochial. In Pennsylvania, it’d be hard to find a county much more representative of the country at large. Demographically, Delco hews pretty closely to national averages in terms of age distribution, education levels and per capita income. It has a significant immigrant population. Admittedly, it has a negligible Latino population and its black population is a little bigger that average (18 versus 12 percent nationally). But overall it’s about as representative as any one battleground can be.
What the numbers don’t tell you, and what I know because I spent a couple of years driving up and down the Blue Route, the interstate that runs through Delaware County, is that Delco is a sort of geographic mirror of the coalition Democrats need to assemble in November. The Blue Route starts in Chester, a destitute old port town that is largely black, runs up through Catholic enclaves like Ridley, Springfield and Broomall—the places the WIP sports talk radio malcontents always seem to be calling from—and hits the county line around Haverford, home of a liberal college and a lot of professionals.
For generations, Delaware County was Republican territory, ruled by a handful of bosses who doled out judgeships and sponsored little league teams. But it’s been trending left since the 1990s, and in 2006 election, for the first time in a generation, it elected a Democratic congressman, Joe Sestak, a military man who campaigned against the war in Iraq. Winning suburban areas like Delaware County has been the key to the Democrats’ recent success in the presidential race in Pennsylvania, as this map shows.
So what happened last night? Hillary Clinton won much of the state, including most of the white rural counties that went for George Bush carried in 2004, and will almost certainly go for John McCain in 2008. Though, oddly, Obama did take the exurban Chester County and rural Lancaster County, the Amish country. (Perhaps it was his plan to bring down horse feed prices?) Obama did exceedingly well in Philadelphia, as was expected, and ran neck-and-neck with Clinton in Montgomery County, home of the waspy Main Line suburbs. And he ran up a big victory, 55-45, in Delco.
No doubt, it was a bad night for Obama. But he console himself (and his and wavering superdelegates) by saying he won in places the Democrats need in November.* Wait, isn’t that her argument?
*Yes, right, Pittsburgh. Hillary creamed him there. I don’t know much about Pittsburgh. People in Philadelphia haven’t paid much attention since Willie Stargell retired. Now that this dumb primary is over, I can go back to ignoring it, thank God.