By Dr. G. Terry Madonna, Professor of Political Science at Millersville University and Director of the Center for Politics & Public Affairs
Beginning in the 1960s Pennsylvania became a competitive two-party state after more than one hundred years of Republican Party domination. In Pennsylvania elections, either party was capable of winning statewide elections, although since 1994 the state has trended Republican. Currently, the governor and lieutenant governor, both U.S. Senators, and two of the other three statewide elected officials are Republican. And the state legislature is Republican controlled as well. Officially, there are approximately 440,000 more registered Democrats than Republicans in the state, but studies of voter party identification in Keystone Polls (the Keystone Poll is an independent poll conducted at Millersville University) indicate that voters prefer the Republican Party.
For the most part, Pennsylvania voters can be characterized as moderate in political ideology. This is especially true for elections to the U.S. Senate. Current U.S. Senator Rick Santorum is an exception to that practice. He is the first genuine conservative to win a major statewide election in modern times.
At the moment, Pennsylvanians are optimistic about the economy. For many decades, concern about the economy dominated Pennsylvania politics. As an old rust-belt state, Pennsylvania's economy was characterized by a commitment to heavy industry, which made economic downturns in the state more perverse than economic decline elsewhere. During the past two decades, economic revitalization and the good economic times currently in existence have produced a different set of issue concerns for voters. In addition to the economy, voters now have focused their concern on education, healthcare, and crime. These three issues will be important in both state and national elections in 2000. Pennsylvania also has the third largest senior citizen population in the nation, which means that Social Security and Medicare are also relevant in elections.
In presidential elections Pennsylvania remains quite competitive. Since 1960, the Democrats have carried the state in six presidential elections, the Republicans five. The winning presidential candidate has won the state's electoral votes in ten of the last eleven elections. Most analysts expect the eventual nominee of both parties to campaign extensively in the state, given Pennsylvania's competitiveness and large number of electoral votes, 23. Currently, the Republican establishment led by Governor Tom Ridge is supporting Texas Governor George W. Bush for the Republican presidential nomination. The Governor has launched an all out effort to assist Bush in winning the Republican nomination, raising almost three million dollars for the Bush campaign, rallying the state Republican leadership behind the Texas Governor, and positioning himself to become his vice presidential running mate.
The reelection of Senator Rick Santorum will be the most visible and hotly contested statewide election in 2000. The first term Senator is seen as vulnerable, and his election will be observed nationally as a key to whether Republicans will maintain control the U.S. Senate. First elected in 1994, he won 49% of the vote and eked out a narrow two-point victory over Harris Wofford. Public opinion polls show Santorum to be in political difficulty. A Keystone Poll taken in July 1999 showed that 34% of Pennsylvania voters indicated that the Senator had done a good enough job to deserve reelection, while 38% said it was time for a change.
The darling of conservatives, Santorum is staunchly pro-life, pro-gun, opposed to abortion, and generally considered to be one of the most conservative members of the U.S. Senate. Of late, he has inched towards the political center. He supported an unpopular sales tax referendum in eleven western Pennsylvania counties to support the funding of sports stadiums, campaigned for pro-choice Governor Christy Todd Whitman in New Jersey, and supported an increase in the minimum wage. He now often refers to himself as a "compassionate conservative." Smelling the prospects of victory, six Democrats have entered the Democratic primary. The most prominent prospects include Congressman Ron Klink from Pittsburgh, former state Labor Secretary Tom Foley, and Philadelphia state Senator Allyson Schwartz. But make no mistake about it, defeating Santorum will not be easy. He will raise twelve million dollars; money will be no problem as his campaign coffers will be filled by conservative interest groups. He is also a seasoned and tough campaigner, who understands how to win elections in Pennsylvania.