A key race in defining Democrats
In Pennsylvania, a clash of two visions in gubernatorial primary race shows party split.
Crawling up the narrow cobblestone streets of Philadelphia's historic Germantown neighborhood, the red-white-and-blue bus, plastered with a giant likeness of gubernatorial candidate Ed Rendell, looks jarringly out of place.Skip to next paragraph
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But as it pulls up in front of Cliveden Manor site of one of the fiercest battles of the Revolutionary War the symbolism is neatly fitting.
With less than a week to go before Pennsylvania's primary election, former Philadelphia Mayor Rendell and state Auditor Bob Casey Jr., are locked in an intense struggle for the Democratic nomination for governor. The matchup, which pits a culturally conservative populist against a pro-business liberal, has sharply split the state's Democrats and in the process laid bare a fundamental clash over the heart and soul of the party here.
Mr. Casey, son of the late Gov. Bob Casey, has drawn much of his support from the party's blue-collar base. Pro-gun and antiabortion, he is campaigning primarily on traditional Democratic issues like expanding access to healthcare and raising the minimum wage. He has won the endorsement of most of the state's unions, as well as the state party leadership.
By contrast, Rendell, the former mayor who also headed the Democratic National Committee from 1999-2000, is running strongest among urban and suburban voters, many of whom credit him with engineering Philadelphia's revival in the 1990s. Culturally liberal he supports abortion rights he touts creative economic plans, such as cutting local property taxes while raising revenue for education through slot machines and higher cigarette taxes.
The campaign has revealed deep economic, cultural, and geographic divisions among Democrats in a state that political strategist James Carville famously described as "Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, with Alabama in between." Rendell's supporters are mostly from the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh regions areas that benefitted from the high-tech boom of the '90s while Casey appeals more to the struggling mining and rural communities that have been left behind.
Bill Clinton and Al Gore each managed to hold these two groups together in one shaky coalition to win the state in recent national elections. Yet analysts say the bitter dynamics of the current race underscores the increasing difficulty of that task, which may pose a stark challenge to any Democrat hoping to win at the state or national level.
"Clinton and Gore put both pieces together," says Terry Madonna, a political scientist and pollster at Millersville University in Millersville, Pa. "They had the cultural liberals, the pro-business Democrats in the suburbs, as well as the typical blue-collar, working-class people. In the case of Casey and Rendell, they divide them."
As part of a campaign to maximize voter turnout in the Philadelphia area, the Rendell camp has persuaded 17,000 Republicans to switch party registration in order to vote in the Democratic primary. While these "Rendellicrats" may not be statistically all that significant, on a symbolic level they hint at a long-term realignment that's occurring between the parties as more conservative working-class Democrats switch to the GOP, while Republican urban moderates move to the Democratic column.