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Democrats get stronger in Philly suburbs

| Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

HARRISBURG — Democrats' strong showing last week in Philadelphia's suburbs cut into what once was a Republican stronghold with a higher voter turnout rate than the rest of the state.

But it's not clear whether the trend will carry forward to 2014.

“In Pennsylvania, it's becoming clear that it's two different states in presidential and nonpresidential years,” said Mark Harris, who helped run the Republican campaigns of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey in 2010 and this year's losing U.S. Senate candidate, Tom Smith.

On Tuesday, more than 70 percent of the 1.2 million voters in the four suburban Philadelphia counties — Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery — turned out. Not counting the Democratic bastion of Philadelphia, the rest of the state's 5.7 million voters turned out at 65 percent.

A bright spot for Republicans is their growing strength in western Pennsylvania. But population growth there has been stagnant compared with southeastern Pennsylvania.

Republicans are starting to have trouble finding enough voters in the Philadelphia suburbs to have a legitimate chance in a statewide election, said Christopher Borick, a pollster and political scientist at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

“You wonder if there's enough votes elsewhere in the state for them to win this thing, and that's hard math for the Republicans,” Borick said.

Former Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat who remains the state party's campaigner-in-chief, said it will be almost impossible for a conservative Republican to win if Philadelphia's voters show up in stronger numbers.

“Republicans have to run candidates who can appeal to the Philadelphia suburbs,” Rendell said.

The next high-profile candidate up will be Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, expected to seek a second four-year term in 2014.

Corbett, who ran for governor while his attorney general's office was carrying out high-profile public corruption investigations, won in 2010 amid another national wave favoring Republicans.

Just 40 percent of Philadelphia voters went to the polls as Corbett went on to hold a tiny edge in the Philadelphia suburbs and beat Allegheny County executive Dan Onorato by 9 percentage points.

Rendell said one question is whether Democrats can nominate a quality candidate who can raise money and excite voters in Philadelphia and its suburbs while holding his or her own in the rest of the state.

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