Is Barack Obama trailing Hillary Rodham Clinton in Pennsylvania by double digit percentages? Or has he closed the gap to single digits, as recent polls suggest? Could he even win the April 22 primary — a shocking upset that probably would force Clinton to the sidelines? These are among the questions that have the hearts of the punditocracy atwitter in the run-up to the first Democratic presidential balloting in six weeks.
We at CQ Politics are pondering those too. But we look ahead to next week’s vote in Pennsylvania a bit differently: How many delegates might each candidate win in Pennsylvania, which is the most populous of the states and territories that have yet to vote?
That answer will be mainly determined not by the sum of the votes Clinton and Obama win in Pennsylvania, but rather by the state’s parts. Pennsylvania will send 187 Democratic delegates to the party’s national convention in Denver this August, and most of them — 103 to be exact — will be allocated according to the votes the candidates receive in each of the state’s 19 congressional districts.
And a CQ Politics analysis of the political circumstances in Pennsylvania’s congressional districts, detailed below, projects an edge to Clinton — but by just 53 district-level delegates to 50 for Obama under the Democratic Party’s proportional distribution rules.
These numbers suggest that Clinton, even with a victory in Pennsylvania, would make only a small incremental gain against Obama’s overall lead in the delegate race.
Of the state’s remaining 84 slots, only 55 pledged delegates will be distributed based on the statewide popular vote, with the state’s remaining 29 seats going to unpledged “superdelegates.”
The 103 district-level delegates are not distributed evenly. Democratic-leaning congressional districts are awarded more delegates than Republican-leaning districts. The state’s 2nd District, a Democratic bastion centered in Philadelphia, has nine district delegates to divvy up among Clinton and Obama. The heavily Republican 9th District, in the south-central part of the state, has just three. (For a district-by-district allocation of delegates, please click here.
One doesn’t need great predictive powers to estimate how many delegates Clinton and Obama will win in most of Pennsylvania’s 19 congressional districts. That’s because the district delegates are awarded on a proportional basis, and each candidate’s delegate allocation is rounded to the nearest whole number. That means the delegate allotments can be the same for a wide range of popular vote percentages.
Consider Pennsylvania’s 5th District, which has four district delegates. The popular vote tally between Clinton and Obama should be close. But for the purposes of awarding district delegates, it doesn’t really matter who wins a tight race because the winner would need to take more than 62.5 percent of the vote in Pennsylvania’s 5th — or in any other four-delegate district — to earn a 3-1 delegate split. (Multiplying four by .625 equals 2.5, so a candidate who receives, say, 65 percent of the vote would receive a delegate share that would be subsequently rounded up to three). So if Clinton defeats Obama, 60 percent to 40 percent, the district delegates would split 2-2; if Obama defeats Clinton, 60 percent to 40 percent, a 2-2 split would also ensue.
In a five-delegate district, a narrow win would yield a 3-2 delegate advantage. A 70 percent super-majority would be needed to win four out of five. For this reason, it’s highly likely that each of the five Pennsylvania districts that award five district delegates will yield 3-2 splits.
One district where the delegate split is more difficult to project is the 2nd, where Obama is expected to easily prevail in that majority-black district. He’ll surely win at least six of the nine district delegates, though CQ politics projects that he will earn a 7-2 split by winning at least 72.2 percent of the district vote. (Going from 6-3 to 7-2 is really a two-delegate gain, when you consider that this is a zero-sum game in which one candidate necessarily wins a delegate at the expense of his or her opponent).
Here are our predictions of how the 103 district-level delegates will be apportioned among Clinton and Obama in the April 22 primary election. We welcome readers to provide analysis in the comments section.
• 1st District (South and central Philadelphia; Chester). A little less than half the residents of Philadelphia’s 1st District are African American and Obama’s success in predominantly black communities, reaching above 90 percent in some, makes it clear he will do well here. CQ Politics Prediction: Obama 4, Clinton 3.
•2nd District (West Philadelphia; Chestnut Hill; Cheltenham). The 2nd is almost certain to go even more heavily for Obama than the neighboring 1st District. It stretches from “Center City” to West Philadelphia, and more than 60 percent of the residents are black. Not only is this likely to be Obama’s best district, but it is by far the most delegate-rich, which should help him offset Clinton wins in districts outside the Philadelphia region. Obama will win at least six of the nine delegates, and he would beat Clinton 7-2 if he exceeds 72.2 percent of the district vote. CQ Politics Prediction: Obama 7, Clinton 2
• 3rd District (Northwest — Erie). This district, way across the state from Philadelphia, is represented by labor-friendly Republican Rep. Phil English . It appears likely to follow Rust Belt trends in Ohio and New York and favor Clinton. CQ Politics Prediction: Clinton 3, Obama 2
• 4th District (West — Pittsburgh suburbs). This district, which runs through the exurbs west of Pittsburgh and takes in suburbs north and northeast of the city, is almost certain to be Clinton country, as its politics is dominated by the working-class white union members who are in the core of Clinton’s base. CQ Politics Prediction: Clinton 3, Obama 2
• 5th District (North central — State College). The Penn State University campus, which is located in the southern end of this sprawling district, should be a bastion of Obama support. But Clinton has fared well in Republican districts in populous states that have voted previously, including neighboring Ohio. Advantage Clinton, but her margin won’t be sufficient enough to break a 2-2 split. CQ Politics Prediction: Tie, 2-2.
• 6th District (Southeast — parts of Berks and Chester counties, Philadelphia suburbs). This area, where Republican Jim Gerlach has won each of his three U.S. House elections with 51 percent of the vote, should be a battleground in the Democratic presidential race as well. It’s hard to predict the winner here, but because the district has an even number of delegates (six), it seems clear that it will be a 3-3 split. CQ Politics Prediction: Tie, 3-3.
• 7th District (Suburban Philadelphia — most of Delaware County). The 7th flipped into Democratic hands in 2006 when retired Vice Admiral Joe Sestak rallied middle-class suburban voters and older, working-class whites to his side. Sestak was a defense policy official in the administration of Clinton’s husband, and he is backing the New York senator. CQ Politics Prediction: Clinton 4, Obama 3.
•8th District (Northern Philadelphia suburbs — Bucks County). Freshman Democratic Rep. Patrick J. Murphy , the only Iraq War veteran in Congress, is Obama’s state chairman and will no doubt work to turn this district in his favor. The district’s above-average median household income (just under $60,000 in 1999) bodes well for Obama, though Democratic voters here are a bit more conservative than their brethren in Philadelphia and some of the other suburbs. CQ Politics Prediction: Clinton 4, Obama 3.
•9th District (South central — Altoona). The heavily Republican 9th has the fewest Democratic delegates available – 3 – of all the congressional districts in the state. Clinton should fare well here and take two of the three delegates. CQ Politics Prediction: Clinton 2, Obama 1.
•10th District (Northeast — Central Susquehanna Valley). The 10th is a traditionally Republican district in the northeast corner of the state that has Democratic pockets in old industrial towns. If Clinton can’t win big here, she is in trouble in the state. Clinton should win the popular vote here rather easily, but not enough to overcome a 2-2 split in delegates. CQ Politics Prediction: Tie, 2-2.
• 11th District (Northeast — Scranton, Wilke-Barre). Clinton has family roots in Scranton, and has proven herself a capable vote-getter among the union families that still dominate the politics of the 11th District. Obama carries the backing of Sen. Bob Casey , the scion of a legendary local political family, but the value of his endorsement is limited. Clinton should win the 11th easily; a narrow victory would garner her a 3-2 edge in delegates here, but she’d need to win a whopping 70 percent of the vote to get a 4-1 edge. CQ Politics Prediction: Clinton 3, Obama 2.
•12th District (Southwest — Johnstown). John P. Murtha , the local U.S. House member and dean of Pennsylvania congressional Democrats, has thrown his considerable support behind Clinton in a district that should favor her heavily. CQ Politics Prediction: Clinton 3, Obama 2.
•13th District (East — Northeast Philadelphia, part of Montgomery County). The 13th, which is represented by two-term Democrat Allyson Y. Schwartz , should be among the most competitive districts in the state. Obama is likely to do well with wealthy white liberals, but have more trouble among working-class whites in the city and more conservative Democratic voters in the suburbs. CQ Politics Prediction: Clinton 4, Obama 3.
•14th District (Pittsburgh and some close-in suburbs). Pittsburgh’s economic rebirth in recent decades and the influx of white-collar jobs give it a modern feel that is odds with many of the blue-collar communities that surround it. The new wealth and an African American community nearing 25 percent of the 14th District’s population position Obama for a popular-vote victory. CQ Politics Prediction: Obama 4, Clinton 3.
•15th District (East — Allentown, Bethlehem). The politics of the Lehigh Valley are still dominated by ethnic whites who remember the region’s days as an industrial powerhouse. But the area also serves as a bedroom community for both Philadelphia and New York, and it has an increasingly suburban feel. It is overwhelmingly white, and Hispanic residents outnumber blacks by about two to one, a composition that is favorable to Clinton. She should win this district, which has five delegates. CQ Politics Prediction: Clinton 3, Obama 2.
•16th District (Southeast — Lancaster, part of Reading). The 16th District, a Republican stronghold that takes in all of Lancaster County and portions of Berks and Chester counties, could be a battleground, according to local political experts. Those Democrats who have remained in their party in Lancaster County despite long being outnumbered by margins of 2-to-1 or greater by Republicans are actually fairly liberal. Rapid growth in the well-to-do Chester County portion of the district make the primary politics a bit unpredictable. But the rural, conservative nature of the district should give Clinton an edge in popular votes. This is a four-delegate district that should be an even split. CQ Politics Prediction: Tie, 2-2.
•17th District (East central — Harrisburg, Lebanon, Pottsville). As local Democratic Rep. Tim Holden notes, “Most Democrats in Pennsylvania are conservative, rural, not pro-choice, not gun control, the exception being the Philadelphia guys.” The description fits his east-central 17th District, which stretches across Harrisburg, Lebanon and Pottsville. The sprawling district and mix of communities make the vote percentages a tough call, but it seems pretty clear that this four-delegate district should give two apiece to Clinton and Obama. CQ Politics Prediction: Tie, 2-2.
•18th District (West — Pittsburgh suburbs, part of Washington and Westmoreland counties). The 18th District cradles Pittsburgh, taking in its wealthy suburban enclaves and a mix of working-class neighborhoods. This district should be good territory for Clinton. CQ Politics Prediction: Clinton 3, Obama 2.
•19th District (South central — York, Gettysburg). This overwhelmingly Republican district has just four delegates, and is likely to split two to two. The conservative bent favors Clinton, but the local congressman, Republican Todd Platts, is known for his reform-minded politics and independent streak. If local Democratic voters value those traits above others in candidates, Obama will be highly competitive. CQ Politics Prediction: Tie, 2-2.