Memo to Allyson: Uh-oh

Posted: April 11, 2013

YO, ALLYSON, I maybe coulda saved you some paperwork.

See, I was at this Pennsylvania Political Science Association gig last week, and some of us were talking about the state's famous unbroken "cycle" of electing governors of different parties every eight years.

This started back in 1946, way before our governors were allowed to run for a second term.

That second-term stuff started with Milton Shapp in 1974. He won.

So has, as I know you know, every incumbent governor since.

So, Ms. Schwartz, when you filed formal papers this week to run against incumbent Gov. Corbett next year, that just had to be on your mind.

Well, there's more.

During the aforementioned "cycle" discussion, it was noted that the incumbents who won re-election (Shapp, Thornburgh, Casey, Ridge and Rendell) were first elected in years that the president was a member of the other party.

Ya follow?

Democrat Shapp, in 1970 (Nixon); Republican Thornburgh, in 1978 (Carter); Democrat Casey, in 1986 (Reagan); Republican Ridge, in 1994 (Clinton); and Democrat Rendell, in 2002 (Bush).

So, within the "cycle" there's another pattern.

I decided to further explore.

Guess what? The pattern within the "cycle" seems to offer an even greater challenge to one, such as yourself, seeking to beat the "cycle."

To wit: In the 17 Pennsylvania gubernatorial elections since 1946, the winner - whether incumbent or running for an open seat - was a member of the party not in the White House 94.5 percent of the time.

So, since you're running as a Democrat with a Democrat in the White House, you can see how history appears to conspire against you.

The only year that history took a side street was 1982, when Dick Thornburgh won re-election with Reagan in the White House.

And, you may recall, Thornburgh won by one of the narrowest margins ever (50 percent to 48 percent; 100,431 votes out of more than 3.6 million cast), against a Democrat with low voter ID and lower campaign talent: then-U.S. Rep. Allen Ertel, of Williamsport.

When I ran this string of, let's say for your sake, coincidental results past a couple of experts, they initially expressed surprise, then offered explanation.

Joe McLaughlin, director of Temple's Institute for Public Affairs, said that Pennsylvania governors always run in nonpresidential, or "mid-term," years and in such elections there's lower turnout and "a very long and deep trend nationally against the party in the White House."

He also said that the pattern likely reflects the electorate's (I would say usual) unhappiness "and gives voters an opportunity to vote for the other party."

Rick Stafford, professor of public policy at Carnegie Mellon, said, "It's very shallow to say, but I suspect Pennsylvania's just a middle-of-the-road state with the idea of not vesting too much faith in one party."

He added, "I tend to think people get angry at government because, inevitably, it's a messy process, and people get angry at whoever is leading the country."

Also, this "Pa. Guv/Prez Disconnect" might be connected to the fact that most of the state normally doesn't care or pay much attention to governor races.

In the last four, turnout was 41 percent, 42 percent, 37 percent and 42 percent, respectively. In the last four presidential races, turnout here was 59 percent, 63 percent, 62 percent and 54 percent.

Now, I know that every election is different and things can happen and you're experienced and determined and Corbett is vulnerable.

So I would treat all this as merely additional incentive and a chance to win a historical trifecta: first woman, first to break the "cycle" and first Democrat to break the pattern in the "cycle."


Blog: philly.com/BaerGrowls

Columns: philly.com/JohnBaer

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