Pat Toomey is preparing to head to Washington as Pennsylvania’s next senator. There’s a sentence that in itself is rightly comforting to at least 51 percent of Keystone Staters. But if he’s to stay there — with better than 2 percent margins — Toomey and the Pennsylvania Republican Party are going to have to address a structural weakness in the state.
Look at the map below. It looks impressive. Toomey won 60 of 67 counties last week as he topped Joe Sestak 51 to 49 percent. But look closer. He also lost every major urban area except for Harrisburg.
He lost Erie. He lost Pittsburgh. He lost Scranton. He lost Wilkes-Barre. And he lost Philadelphia. In Pennsylvania, losing seven of 67 counties can cost you an election.
And absent Tea Partiers and the wave they created, Joe Sestak could very well be headed to Washington.
The question for the Pennsylvania Republican Party, and specifically Rob Gleason, it’s chairman, is this: When will the time come to focus on reclaiming Philadelphia? It’s all very well to secure, say, 2,000 votes in Forest County, but when you lose more than a quarter million in Philadelphia county — and lose them every cycle — you should begin to notice a structural disadvantage.
And that weakness is probably the core reason no Republican presidential candidate has won the Keystone State — supposedly a battleground — since 1988, before today’s youngest voters were even born.
As it stands, Pennsylvania elections are won for Republicans only in good years, and only by tinkering on the margins. But Philadelphia is ripe for conversion. What stands in the way is the city’s own peculiar machine politics, which runs on patronage and cushy “understandings,” as those inside will tell you, between the city’s Republican and Democrat bosses.
But if the Republican Party is serious about making Pennsylvania competitive once more — and perhaps even winning a presidential race here in two years — the machine politics in the City of Brotherly Love need to be dismantled.
That is, unless the party is content with heart-stopping Election Night margins of one or two percent. Remember this: Toomey won by only 77,437 votes — out of 3.9 million cast.