Primary ballots include ``county of residence'' with candidate names. The name ``Allegheny'' and other western counties are viewed as assets. ``Philadelphia'' is often a kiss of death. Turnout is often the reason.
In the last comparable judicial election (1993) - with a mayoral primary in Pittsburgh and no mayoral race in Philadelphia - the east-west turnout difference was dramatic, according to research compiled at Millersville University's Center for Politics.
Philadelphia had a turnout of 12 percent of registered voters for the Democratic Supreme Court race. The average of the city and its four suburban counties of Delaware, Montgomery, Chester and Bucks, was only 17.8 percent.
Allegheny, mostly Pittsburgh, had 42 percent turnout. The average for Allegheny and its outer ring-counties of Beaver, Washington, Westmoreland and Fayette was 47.4, nearly three times higher than the east.
If the same thing happens Tuesday, look for names such as Gene Strassburger and Debra Todd - endorsed Pittsburgh Democrats running for state Superior Court with high ballot positions in an 11-way primary race for four open seats - to prevail.
``It's partially socially driven,'' says Bob Wolper, a Democratic consultant based in Quakertown. ``The west is more stable and marginally older. People in the east are more mobile, and voters are more in flux.''
John Brabender, a GOP consultant based in Pittsburgh, agrees.
``Allegheny County is now the oldest county in the country,'' he said. ``Half the electorate is over 60 years old, and the elderly are the most likely to vote.''
The western advantage, however, has a weak spot.
Political observers are closely watching the three-way Democratic Supreme Court race among two Pittsburghers, Joseph Del Sole and Kate Ford Elliott, and easterner Berle Schiller of Montgomery County.
Schiller hopes Elliott and Del Sole split the western vote, allowing him the victory.
He says he's telling anyone who will listen, ``it might not be a good idea to have all the justices from Pittsburgh.''
Three of six sitting justices on the seven-member court are Pittsburghers. Schiller is running to fill a vacancy.
This strategy worked once before.
In 1993, Philadelphia Democrat Russ Nigro, now a Supreme Court justice, won a seven-way primary on his second statewide try. Three western candidates split the western vote. Still, Nigro won by a margin of only 0.5 percent.
Like Schiller, Nigro was backed by the party and powerful Philadelphia state Sen. Vince Fumo; he just barely beat the western edge.
``There is this friends-and-neighbors effect out there,'' says G. Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Millersville, explaining that the region is loyal to candidates from the urban center of Pittsburgh. ``It seems to work the opposite in the southeast. I don't think `Philadelphia' on the ballot, for instance, helps a candidate in Montgomery County.''
If that's so, Seamus McCaffery, a Philadelphia Democrat in a three-way race for one Commonwealth Court seat who is running against two Pittsburghers, will need the ``Nigro effect'' of a split western vote to grab a win.