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Despite Obama victory, Westmoreland GOP leaders optimistic for 2016

| Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012, 8:54 p.m.

As Westmoreland County turned a little redder last week, Republican leaders in the region expressed confidence that their party will break the Democrats' hold on the White House in four years.

Three rising Republicans credited the power of incumbency and blamed a misrepresentation of their party's ideals among the reasons President Barack Obama won re-election by defeating the GOP nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Westmoreland County Register of Wills Michael Ginsburg, county party chairwoman Jill Cooper and North Huntingdon Township Commissioner Zachary Haigis said last week that they believe the growth the party has shown countywide since the late 1990s could be replicated nationwide.

Unofficial results show Romney took Westmoreland County with 61.3 percent, the highest figure since Democrat Lyndon Johnson earned 71.7 percent in 1965.

Though 26 percent more voters in Westmoreland identify themselves as Democrats, the GOP presidential candidate has won the past four elections here.

Since 1997, when Democrats enjoyed a 2-to-1 registration edge, the margin has been cut by more than half to 32,360 this fall.

The county also has been a bastion for tea-party rallies at the Greensburg-Jeannette Regional Airport in Boquet.

Ginsburg, a former Penn Township commissioner who changed his registration from Democrat nearly six years ago, said the national Republican party will have to improve its outreach to relate conservative principles to everyday life for voters.

He disputed the Democrats' argument that Republicans are for the rich, saying the party stands for offering the opportunity to gain wealth.

“I think the rest of the country should take a lesson from Western Pennsylvania because we have a good, blue-collar ethic,” Ginsburg said.

Polling funded by a consortium of television networks and the Associated Press in 31 states where the presidential race was projected to be competitive found that Obama won with the support of 55 percent of women, 93 percent of blacks, 71 percent of Hispanics and 73 percent of Asians.

Some political pundits speculated last week that the falling influence of white voters – from 74 percent of the electorate in 2008 to 72 percent this year – portends another possible loss for Republicans in 2016. Nearly six in 10 white voters favored Romney.

“The Republican tent needs to be adjusted somehow if we're ever going to reverse that,” Ginsburg said.

Haigis, who beat an entrenched Democratic incumbent three years ago, said he thought Romney was the clear choice given the struggling state of the economy in which unemployment was above 8 percent for most of Obama's first term.

However, Haigis acknowledged the immigration issue might have hurt Romney, who recommended “self-deportation” as a solution during the primary.

“I think letting people in and working toward citizenship is a good thing,” said Haigis, 26.

Cooper, of Murrysville, became chairwoman of the Westmoreland County Republican Committee in June and attended the national GOP convention as a delegate in August.

She said voters generally tend to give the incumbent president the benefit of the doubt. She noted that Obama maintained strong support from demographic groups that swept him to victory in 2008.

But she said it's a misconception that Republicans aren't compassionate and caring, particularly toward women.

She rejected the rhetoric of a Republican “war on women,” stressing she is the fourth female to lead the county party in since the mid-1990s.

“I think we, as a party, definitely support women and women in office,” Cooper said.

Democrats have been emboldened by the results, which gave their party a win in the popular vote for the fifth time in the past six elections.

Rosemary Trump, a former chairwoman for Westmoreland Democrats, said she feels the Democrats are right on national issues highlighting the general welfare of citizens, respect for all faiths and no discrimination on the basis of gender or sex.

Trump, of Murrysville, said she doesn't think there is a future for any national party that tries to regulate women's control over their bodies. She also said Obama's support for gay marriage was an important step in the campaign.

“I do think that there is a reason that ‘Modern Family' is the number one (sitcom) show on television,” she said.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400 ext. 8671 or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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