Wednesday, April 16, 2008

PA Voters Talk About What's on Their Mind

Obama - Clinton : Pennsylvania changes from Swing to Democratic

By Edward Luce in Doylestown , Pennsylvania

“Ronald Reagan once said: ‘I didn’t leave the Democratic party, the Democratic party left me’,” says Mr Samuels, who is deputy chair of his county’s Democratic party. “Well I didn’t leave the Republican party. The Republican party left me.”

The sharp trend away from the Republican party is not confined to Bucks County . Fuelled by disaffection with the Iraq war, the Bush administration’s alleged mismanagement of the US economy and its departure from fiscal conservatism, Pennsylvania as a whole has shifted from being a swing state into a Democratic state over the past few years.

In 2002 Pennsylvania had 3.8m registered Republicans and 3.2m Democrats. Today it has 4.2m Democrats and 3.2m Republicans. The picture is similar at the national level. According to Rasmussen Reports, 41 per cent of Americans are affiliated to the Democrats compared with 32 per cent to the Republicans – a near reversal of the picture during the first George W. Bush administration.

But the switch has caused a particular ripple in Bucks County , which is a critical battleground between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama in the Pennsylvania primary, which takes place 10 days from now.

This week was the first moment in more than a generation when the number of registered Democrats surpassed Republicans in Bucks county. “This has been a Republican stronghold for as long as I can remember,” says Marilyn Larsen, a former Republican member of the local school board in Newtown , Bucks Country, who recently registered as a Democrat. Mrs Larsen, a retired teacher, says that it was the Bush administration’s “hostility to science” and the spread of evangelical politics that helped push her across.

There are large numbers of Catholics living in Philadelphia ’s suburbs, many of whom were originally blue collar workers who fled the inner city in the 1960s and 1970s. They were part of the “Reagan Democrat” swing that helped deliver a generation of conservative domination in America . Nowadays large numbers are drifting back to the Democrats.

In November 2006 the area elected its first Democratic congressman in many years – Patrick Murphy, a 34-year-old Irish-American Iraq war veteran. Mr Murphy defeated an evangelical Republican opponent whose Bible-thumping rhetoric found little echo among the district’s Catholic voters. In November he is expected to return with a larger majority.

Mrs Larsen says many of her neighbours may vote for Mr Obama – an unthinkable prospect among people who fled the African-American “machine politics” that took hold of Philadelphia a generation ago.

“Let’s be honest about it, Barack Obama is culturally white – that’s why a lot of people round here are prepared to vote for him,” says Mrs Larsen, who has yet to make up her mind whether to vote for Mr Obama or Hillary Clinton, who retains a lead in the opinion polls. “But when they hear Michelle Obama speak they start wavering. She seems more African-American. People haven’t changed as much as they like to think.”

However, Mr Obama is attracting support in unlikely places. At an Obama rally in Levittown , Pennsylvania – one of the first planned US suburban townships, founded in 1951 – tickets at the mostly white event ran out within hours.

Many older residents remember Daisy Myers, the town’s first black resident, who moved out in 1962 after intolerable prejudice.

Mrs Clinton is still expected to win Levittown ’s vote. But Mr Obama is competitive. “The more I watched Obama on TV, the more convinced I became by his integrity and leadership qualities,” says Christine Harrison, a graphic artist and a former Republican who has persuaded both her parents and all four siblings to switch to the Democrats.

Some Democrats in Washington fear that the increasingly tetchy contest between Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton could start to corrode the party’s national advantage and jeopardise prospects of taking the White House in November.

But Mr Samuels, who has helped to spearhead the Bucks County drive to register new Democrats, dismisses such speculation. “I think that the surge in registration in Pennsylvania and the high turnouts we have seen in other Democratic primaries is a testimony to a much more enduring switch,” he said.

“It would take much more than a competitive primary between two very compelling candidates to reverse that trend.” Mrs Larsen agrees: “Don’t underestimate how turned off people are by the Republicans,” she said. “They want a chance to express that.”

N.B. 'Catholics for Obama' has been invited to the Pope's Mass tomorrow in Washington, DC. I'm not sure if there will be a post.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here is a letter I wrote to Bishop Garcia, head of the Monterey, CA Diocese in response to a "blue Letter" that was passed out at Mas entitled The Challenge of Forming Concsciences for Faithful Citizenship. I understand that the "blue letter" was passed out throughout the US in Sept. I urge folks to write to their bishops requesting that they NOT support the positions promulgated in this letter just to pacify the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. Feel free to plagirize my letter!Dear Bishop Garcia,
I am a 65 year old Catholic member of Resurrection Catholic Community in Aptos. I have been married for 31 years to my first husband, am a retired mental health provider, and an active community member. I have been a member at Resurrection for about 9 years and, in spite of the fact that I have had differing views with the Catholic Church in the past, I have found comfort and solace in the faith of my childhood. I have also read a great deal by Reverend Jim Wallis, who wrote "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It." While I do not agree with him completely, his book points out the value of finding common ground across real political and theological differences to pursue peace and justice internationally and at home, so I have given a good bit of thought to what true Christianity is about, especially as it relates to governance. I mention this so you can understand the seriousness with which I write this letter.
On September 7, the "blue letter"--The Challenge of Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship-- was included in the church bulletin. It was introduced at Mass by Father Ron Shirley with the caveat "The bishop is not telling you who to vote for, but rather wants you to educate yourself about the election." It was with great trepidation that I picked it up, fearing that, once again, the wedge issues of abortion and gay rights would trump the real and important issues facing America--and, sure enough, that is exactly what was contained in this"blue letter."
I pondered on this for several days before writing this letter, as it likely means I have some big decisions to make at this point in my life. While I do not deny that the Church's stance on these 2 issues will likely continue to be debated long after I leave this planet, I felt I needed to tell you what I believe many thoughtful Catholics are feeling about the Church's blatant pressure to conform to untenable positions. We are angry at the blatant hypocrisy of church leaders, the unwillingness to deal with the realities of the 21st century, especially as relates to family planning, and the intolerance shown to those among us who, for whatever reason, are "different." Are you aware that the numbers of both abortions and teen pregnancies are steadily going down? It is not by accident or "abstinence only" policies, but by carefully educating young people about human sexuality and by providing women with reliable birth control. Are you also aware that there are many gay priests, nuns, and lay people who are very active and devout Catholics right here in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties? I have family members who have left the Church as a result of the Church leaders' handling of the sex scandals, not being able to receive communion because they remarried after divorcing a batterer, having to hide their homosexuality, and others who are just plain tired of the hypocrisy. I know at least 25 Aptos folks who have left to join Twin Lakes Church rather than stay in the Catholic Community where they feel shamed and unaccepted. Don't you think it is time for at least the Monterey Diocese to find a new approach?
As the leader of our Diocese, you might want to take Father Ron's counsel to "educate yourself" on the important issues in this election: we are faced with record deficits, serious job losses, people starving, hurricane victims being left out in the cold, two wars to deal with, the economy in the worst shape since the Great Depression, increasing numbers of people without health insurance, ignored educational problems, and a myriad of other issues the next president will have to face. How can you, in good conscience, have the temerity to basically instruct Catholics to put "wedge issues" front and center ahead of truly serious issues? Did you hear Joe Biden, who is a devout Catholic, state his position--he said that his feelings about when conception begins are personal and religious and that he would never presume to force his feelings onto the American public. I do not know his position on gay issues, but I suspect that he is more compassionate than his Church!
The choices supported in this election by the Catholic Church speaks volumes about the desperation the religious right are experiencing as we move closer to November 4. Consider this, please:
Obama is in a first marriage, with 2 children, a practicing Christian, no sexual affairs, Harvard educated, a former community organizer in poor black communities; no affairs, no drug use, a champion of the middle class with no major scars on his record.
Joe Biden is a lifelong Catholic, a widower who has been remarried for over 20 years, a devoted father with 2 highly successful sons and a clean political record who is not afraid to speak the truth in spite of possible political fallout.
On the Church's side......
John McCain, who, having come home a hero from Vietnam, had numerous affairs while married and ultimately left his wife for his mistress, a wealthy woman who becomes a prescription drug addict who actually STEALS drugs from one of the charities she supports!
Sarah Palin, whose sole political experience is less that that of one of our small town mayors or members of our Board of Supervisors, who had to get married because she pregnant, whose son went into the military after earning a reputation as a druggie, whose daughter is also unmarried and pregnant, and who is under investigation for abuse of power and refuses to testify! In addition, she blatantly lied about numerous issues in her desperation to rise to the position that is "a heartbeat away" from the Presidency.
For whom is "morality" more important in the overall scheme of things?
Now, Bishop Garcia, while I have only seen you once, I have heard that you are a thoughtful and fair-minded man. Can you truly look yourself in the mirror and feel good about counseling the parishioners in the Monterey Diocese to vote for the McCain-Palin ticket JUST BECAUSE they are "anti abortion" proponents? Wouldn't it be better to help your flock elect people who could move in the direction of making abortion "legal, safe, and rare"? And wouldn't it be better to teach compassion for those among us who are "different", for whatever reason and in whatever circumstances?
I hope you will seriously reconsider the value of asking Monterey Diocese Catholics to support the positions stated in "the blue letter", for, while it may keep you in good stead with Church leadership who are clearly single-focused and steadfast in their resolve to pander to the Religious Right, it is likely to result in a loss of faith of even larger numbers of thoughtful parishioners--folks who have "well-formed consciences," who see these "wedge issues" for what they truly are, and who may just find that they can no longer support an institution that is narrowly-focused and dismissive of true "faithful citizenship."
I remain respectfully yours,