To paraphrase George Orwell, all voters are created equal, but some are more equal than others.
In the 2010 midterm elections, treating every Pennsylvania voter equally is a strategic mistake. The most critical voters are found in the Philadelphia suburbs.
Perennially, the suburbs are a bellwether of the nation’s mood — and this year’s congressional elections are no different. If Republicans perform well in areas surrounding the city on Nov. 2, they will likely retake the U.S. House of Representatives (and possibly the Senate) and decidedly frustrate President Barack Obama’s agenda.
Democrats are concerned that the drop in enthusiasm since 2008 might result in congressional losses for the party — either due to lower turnout overall or fewer volunteers to engage reliably Democratic votes. And that’s where students play a critical role.
Unlike the average voters, students are capable of spending the time and energy it takes to go door to door and get people to the polls. Because of the Democratic Party’s demographics, the party traditionally relies on students to help with grassroots efforts. For Penn’s Democratic students, time should be spent not in West Philly, but just outside the city limits.
So, let’s clarify why Philly’s suburbs are so important.
In the seventh congressional district — occupying much of the suburbs southwest of Philadelphia in Delaware County — Republican candidate Patrick Meehan and Democratic candidate Bryan Lentz are battling each other over Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Joe Sestak’s current seat. Despite a recent record of voting for Democratic candidates, the race is a complete toss-up, according to the non-partisan Cook Political Report.
In the eighth congressional district — occupying all of Bucks County to the northeast — Democratic U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy is re-battling his 2006 opponent, former Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, the Republican. Though Murphy has won his previous two elections handily, the appearance of a known opponent in an anti-incumbent election year makes this, as well, a toss-up.
To a certain extent, these are just two races out of hundreds. But when Republicans only need 39 seats to win the House, each district matters tremendously if Democrats want to retain the majority.
Unfortunately for them, the Penn Democrats are doubling down on their conventional territory.
Student voter registration has been a key component of back-to-school activities, according to College junior Emma Ellman-Golan, the Penn Dems president. By the end of New Student Orientation, groups across campus had registered 500 new voters, Ellman-Golan said.
The Penn Dems also plan to continue the precedent of canvassing in West Philly weekly and phone-banking for suburban Democratic candidates, Ellman-Golan added. While she noted the Penn Dems might spend some weekends in the suburbs working directly with congressional campaigns, that simply won’t be enough.
Meanwhile, the Penn College Republicans’ membership is rapidly rising. The group’s president, Engineering junior Peter Terpeluk, noted a spike in people attending his group’s first meeting — and weekends this fall will also be dedicated to phone-banking and canvassing in the suburbs.
At this point, it is still too early to gauge the full enthusiasm gap that might materialize this fall. But one thing is certain in my mind: registering student voters and spending time in West Philly is a necessity — but no election was ever won in Pennsylvania because Penn students turned out to vote in the 27th ward.
Rather, Penn students must look outward. West Philly will vote overwhelmingly Democratic, regardless. The suburbs hold the key to the 2010 election, and whatever student support materializes in the coming weeks is best spent convincing voters on that turf. Resources will be too precious and time is too rare to spend it pretending otherwise.
Colin Kavanaugh is a College senior from Tulsa, Okla. He is a former regional coordinator for Students for Specter. His e-mail address is kavanaugh@theDP.com. The Sooner, The Better appears on Mondays.Comments powered by Disqus
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