The only drama about Tuesday night’s voting had to do with November. Tuesday’s results we knew going in. Actually, we mostly know how these states will turn out in November as well. Barack Obama will win all but one of them easily: he’ll sail in New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware, collecting those 43 electoral votes without breaking a sweat or spending a dollar.
But then, of course, there’s Pennsylvania. The Keystone State might be a little more up for grabs than Democrats would like to think. In 2008, Obama beat John McCain there by 11 points, 55 to 44 percent. You have to go all the way back to 1988 to find a race when the Republican won the state. But Pennsylvania could be the ultimate proving ground this time around of what I call the “we gave the black guy a chance” theory.
How will race figure into this presidential election? It’s a tricky question. In some states, white middle Americans might have decided that well, the guy’s been president for four years, and nothing racially weird has happened and he’s behaved pretty much like a president is supposed to behave, all things considered, so race isn’t a factor this time. In those states, Obama will improve his white vote. In some other states, though, there may be the notion among some white middle Americans that they gave the black guy a chance, and he didn’t really get the job done, so now maybe we’d better return to “normal.”
Pennsylvania—with an electorate that was 88 percent white in 2008 and strongly working class—could be a “return to normal” state. It’s closer than it was last time. In June 2012, Obama led McCain by 12 points. The state was never in play. Today, Obama leads by six. Or less.
I think Obama is likely to win Pennsylvania, but not by 11 points. He’ll have to spend money there and campaign there more than he did last time, and that depletes resources from other swing states. So Rick Santorum did Mitt Romney this one small favor of making him look strong in an important state that the incumbent is going to have to fight for.