Monday, December 01, 2014

Republicans flourish in once-Democratic southwestern Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale region

Republican success at the polls last month gave the GOP control of the U.S. Senate in addition to the stronghold the party already has in the House. One area where tides are turning is southwest Pennsylvania, a region that has over the years switched its alliance from Democratic to Republican, as more Marcellus Shale oil and gas drilling sites pop up, and the business continues to boom, Lou Jacobson reports for PoliticsPA.

The area is considered the northern end of the "McCain Belt," the swath of counties running west and south to Oklahoma and Louisiana where John McCain did better in the 2008 presidential election against Barack Obama than George W. Bush did against John Kerry in 2004.

"The trend manifested itself first at the top of the ticket but has now moved down to statewide and state legislative races," David Patti, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Business Council, told Jacobson. He said southwestern Pennsylvania “may be registered Democratic, but that means little. They are pro-God, pro-life, pro-gun, moderate on the environment, moderate on tort reform and are not anti-business. They are pro-labor and don’t see that as incompatible with these other considerations. Like Ronald Reagan, they believe they aren’t leaving the Democratic Party–they believe the Democratic Party at the top of the ticket has left them.”

Observers say "the rapidly advancing energy boom has sped up the process of realignment," Jacobson writes. "In this once-sleepy corner of the state, landowners have signed mineral leases, and out-of-state energy companies have flooded the region with business and jobs. To the extent that there’s an environmental downside to the drilling, it hasn’t yet taken precedence in local public opinion, observers say."

Larry Maggi, a Democratic commissioner in Washington County for more than a dozen years, told Jacobson, "The Marcellus Shale is a game-changer, just like the heavy industry that came before it. It has literally changed Washington County’s economics. It has opened up opportunities that have never existed before. Instead of exporting of our kids, our youth are staying here.”

Southwest Pennsylvania was once densely populated, and Democrats still outnumber Republicans 3-to-2 in registration, but Republicans were out in full force during this year's election and outnumbered Democratic voters, Jacobson reports.  "Signs of this realignment—specifically, a shift from the region’s Democratic roots to a Republican ascendancy—have been under way for several years. Bolstered by voters’ disaffection with the national Democratic Party’s stances on social issues, guns and the environment and aided by a pro-Republican redistricting map in the state, the GOP has managed to win all but one of the region’s congressional seats and has gained ground in lower offices." (Read more)

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