New Castle News

November 10, 2012

John K. Manna: Taking a look at the numbers from Tuesday’s election

John K. Manna
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — While President Obama and all Democrats for statewide offices carried Pennsylvania on Tuesday, the same wasn’t true in Lawrence County.

Some Democrats won in the county while some lost.

Tuesday also marked the third consecutive time that Lawrence County deviated from the rest of the state in the presidential race. Obama lost the county by approximately 3,500 votes, but won the state by more than 300,000 votes.

Republican Mitt Romney had a better showing in the county than Sen. John McCain did in 2008. McCain carried the county by about 2,100 votes four years ago.

The numbers are expected to change slightly after the county adds provisional and military ballots to the totals, but races overall will not be affected.

Voter turnout in the county was down from four years ago, so that was perhaps a big reason Romney fared better than McCain. Because Democrats hold a 10,000-plus registration advantage in the county, the lower turnout had its greatest effect on Democratic candidates.

However, the turnout had no negative impact on some Democrats, especially state Reps. Chris Sainato and Jaret Gibbons. Despite a ton of money spent against them, both legislators carried the county portion of their districts by more than 55 percent.

U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, a Republican running for the first time in Lawrence County, defeated his Democratic opponent here by about 2,500 votes. That, plus the fact that Democrats for statewide office — Kathleen Kane for attorney general and Robert McCord for treasurer — carried the county shows that voters were very selective.

Plus, the fact that some Democrats won in the county is indicative that the presidential candidates had short or nonexistent coattails.

And, there are a lot of ifs in any election. But perhaps the biggest one concerns how Lawrence County was divided into two congressional districts by the Republican-controlled Legislature.

For the last 20 years, the county has been represented by one House member. Most recently, U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire, a Democrat, has been that representative.

When the Legislature merged his and U.S. Rep. Mark Critz’s district, it placed most of Lawrence County in Kelly’s district. In addition, it extended the district eastward, giving an advantage to Critz, a Johnstown resident.

Altmire lost by a narrow margin to Critz in the April primary as a result. Two years ago, Altmire carried Lawrence County by about 2,700 votes and defeated Keith Rothfus overall.

Had all of Lawrence County remained intact, the odds are that Altmire would have won the primary and perhaps would have had a chance to win re-election.

As it turns out, Rothfus defeated Critz on Tuesday, giving the GOP an additional congressman from Pennsylvania.

When the legislators redraw districts, they say it’s all about numbers. But it’s obviously more than that.