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Is Pennsylvania In Play for November? Maybe.

Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images
Traditionally, Pennsylvania is not a swing state. But this year, the Keystone State’s white and working-class voters may make the presidential contest competitive there. These voters often identify with the Democratic Party but don’t have a lot in common with President Barack Obama or the party’s positions on cultural issues, Stuart Rothenberg writes.

I never include the Keystone State in my list of presidential swing states for November. Am I making a mistake? Possibly.

There are plenty of reasons to leave the commonwealth of Pennsylvania off any list of the most competitive states that will decide the next president.

While the 2000 national election split the country almost down the middle — then-Vice President Al Gore (D) beat George W. Bush (R) in the popular vote by one-half of 1 percent — Pennsylvania went for the Democrat by more than 4 points.

Four years later, with Bush winning reelection over Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) nationally by almost 2.5 points, Kerry was carrying Pennsylvania by virtually the same margin. And in 2008, Pennsylvania performed about as it had in the two previous elections. While Barack Obama (D) won nationally by just more than 7 points, he carried the Keystone State by a little more than 10 points.

In other words, over the past three elections, the state has been 3 or 4 points more Democratic than the nation as a whole. That doesn’t make Pennsylvania another Maryland, Massachusetts or Hawaii, but it also doesn’t make it Ohio, Iowa or Colorado, three true swing states.

The state often looks tantalizingly competitive to GOP strategists, who usually start off hoping to compete in Pennsylvania. But at the end of the day, they usually find it a mirage.

Still, there are reasons for GOP strategists to look long and hard at the state this time, thinking 2012 could be different.

The GOP controls both chambers of the state Legislature, the governorship, one of the state’s Senate seats and a large majority of the House delegation (in part because of creative mapmaking). George H. W. Bush carried the state in 1988, and in spite of the defeats in 2000 and 2004, those presidential contests in the state were close.

Potentially more important than historical considerations is the makeup of the state. Pennsylvania is an old state. Only Florida, West Virginia and Maine have a higher percentage of residents 65 years old or older, according to 2010 census data. And the Keystone State is white. Among the nation’s dozen largest states, it ranks behind only Ohio for the lowest percentage of minority residents. Just more than one-fifth of Pennsylvania’s population is minority, slightly above Ohio’s 18.9 percent.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won both whites and voters 65 and older in 2008, according to the national exit poll, and the president is likely to be weaker in those two demographic groups again.

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