GOP feeling 'blue'
Bill to divvy up Pennsylvania's Electoral College votes may aid Republicans now, but could backfire if state reverts to 'red.'
In presidential elections, winner-take-all has become a losing proposition for state Republicans.
A GOP candidate hasn't won Pennsylvania since George H.W. Bush in 1988. Over the last decade, Democratic dominance in presidential campaigns has grown as the number of "blue" voters in Philadelphia and its suburbs reached the tipping point.
Oh, Republicans still win statewide, as Gov. Tom Corbett demonstrates -- although the victories of Democrats Rob McCord, Kathleen Kane and Eugene DePasquale in the races for state treasurer, attorney general and auditor general last year are another worrisome trend for the GOP.
The solution, some Republicans think, is to change the rules of the presidential game -- from winner-take-all to winner-take-some.
State Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Chester County, has introduced legislation to rewrite the way Pennsylvania awards its Electoral College votes. Instead of all 20 going to the popular vote winner, 18 of the electoral votes would be distributed in proportion to the overall total. The popular vote winner also would get the last two.
So instead of President Barack Obama getting all 20 of Pennsylvania's electoral votes last year, the Democratic incumbent's 52 percent of the overall total would have given him 11 or 12 -- depending on how you do the mathematical rounding -- and Republican Mitt Romney's 47 percent would have gotten him eight or nine.
Sen. Pileggi's plan is preferable to the one he advanced last legislative session, which would have divvied up the electoral votes based on popular vote totals in congressional districts. But we're still not sold on electoral redistribution.
Democrats certainly aren't; as a Lancaster Newspapers story reported last week, Democrats are making robocalls to constituents in key legislative districts, including Lancaster County, urging citizens to ask their state senators to oppose Sen. Pileggi's bill.
Some of Sen. Pileggi's critics have slammed his proposal because it would dilute Pennsylvania's clout in presidential elections, and that's a legitimate concern. The Keystone State no longer would be a keystone in the Electoral College. Candidates wouldn't bother campaigning here if they didn't have a chance at a 20-vote electoral prize. Even worse, campaigns wouldn't bother spending money in Pennsylvania's media markets without the prospect of those 20 votes.
Beyond the campaign implications, though, we're wondering why anyone would bother fixing something that isn't broken to begin with.
Pennsylvania has become a blue state in the electoral vote because turnout peaks in Philadelphia and its suburbs -- once the burbs were reliably red; now they're purple at best -- in presidential elections. But we can remember when candidates from Philadelphia or its suburbs had slim-to-none chances of winning statewide.
Demographics favor Democrats now. But demography isn't destiny. Demographics change. Look what happened to the Philadelphia ring suburbs as Democratic-leaning Philadelphians migrated out from center city. And look what happened to western Pennsylvania, once a Democratic bastion: It has been turning purplish-red, with the exception of the city of Pittsburgh.
The Law of Unintended Consequences ought to warn Republicans that tinkering with the Electoral College formula might backfire. What if the young voters who now lean Democratic start getting more conservative as they age? (That's been known to happen.) What if Republicans someday lose a chance to win the presidency because they can't count to 20 in Pennsylvania?
Because the GOP has control of the governor's mansion and the General Assembly, Sen. Pileggi's redistribution plan could be enacted. That would be a mistake.
Instead of changing the rules, Republicans need to start finding better strategy -- and better players -- for the presidential game.n