I have the misfortune of living in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Well, that’s not really fair. I rather like this state of mine, of course, what with growing up and living here and all. But it does come with one major drawback, aside from having roads that are about as well-kept as a Namibian mountain pass and a winter season that lasts upwards of a decade or so, is that we are currently in a midst of a drag-down, knock-out, piss-cutter of a primary battle for the Democratic nod for the presidential campaign.
In decades past, the Pennsylvania primary was relegated to comfortable irrelevancy. With an election all the way the hell in April, candidates knew full well they wouldn’t have to bother with pandering to Pennsylvania’s former steelworkers, cranky social conservatives, and Amish radicals. Since the national primaries tended to be front-loaded—2012’s primary actually just started last week—most nominations were all wrapped up by the time the Keystone State bothered to have a say.
Which, normally, is a good thing, since the average Pennsylvanian’s opinion is pretty much boiled down to two sentiments: “Give me my Social Security check,” and “Give me my Social Security check right now.” Sure, there are other considerations, such as guns and the NFL playoffs, but these tend to be drowned out by the sheer number of old people that live in Pennsylvania, where the average age of a newborn is about 45.
Pennsylvania’s always been a bit of a dry rot when it comes to national politics. Despite being one of the original thirteen colonies, they’ve had a rather small percentage of national prominent politicians. We’ve only had one President, and that was the blank-face James Buchanan, known mostly to historians as the guy who actually invented a way to freeze time for four years. And the only members of the current congressional delegation to be noteworthy as of late is Arlen Specter, the guy who tried to sell the fact that a bullet went from the grassy knoll to Hanoi and back en route to its deadly target, and Jack Murtha, who would have had a front-row eyewitness account of the Haditha attack had it not been for the fact that he’s been clinically dead ever since he turned two hundred years old.
Enter Mssrs. Obama and Clinton.
Mrs. Clinton is looking at a do-or-die situation in Pennsylvania, with “do” being “still having only a 50/50 shot of getting the nomination” and “die” being “drop out and make around $4.5 million per year on a speaking tour.” Under normal circumstances, Pennsylvania would be a shoo-in for her. It’s a big, clumsy, industrial state, the kind she does well in, with one foot in a decaying industrial economy and one foot in the high-tech boom, assuming that assisted living facilities are classified as high-tech. Blue-collar workers gravitate towards her, much like they did in Ohio and would have in Michigan had Michigan held an actual primary.
Hillary also has another powerful supporter in the governor, Ed Rendell. Rendell has been an energetic campaigner for Hillary, and somehow manages to translate his political capital and position into mass popularity. No offense to the man, but if anyone were to create the image of a politician from scratch that is the personification of the slouching, tie-askew, back-slapping, smoke-filled room occupying, cigar-chomping, OTB-dwelling, deal-making, fast-talking confidence man, that person would be dead after Rendell hires some guy to put a slug in his temple.
Then again, the story of Pennsylvania is really a story about Philadelphia, where Barack Obama is doing extraordinarily well. His message of hope and inspiration appeals greatly to those in Philadelphia, who have to deal with Cheez Whiz on steak sandwiches and the occasional firebombing of entire city blocks by the police department.
The biggest news around the state, though, is Obama’s contention that Pennsylvanians are bitter about their economic outlook, and so “cling” to guns, God, and anti-immigrant sentiments to make up for the loss. For many, this was seen as condescending and elitist, with Obama under the misunderstanding that if presented with high-paying, good jobs, we would all trade our guns in for Dick Dawkins books or something. It doesn’t appear as though Obama understands that the only thing to get between a Pennsylvanian and his gun is the bullet.
The candidate’s tactics seem to be a touch odd, though. Clinton’s main contention is that everyone has already gone through her baggage and sifted through a darkened attic full of cattle futures, Travelgate, and a steadfast refusal to bake cookies. Obama, for his part, finds himself defensive after it was revealed that his neighbor’s future wife once babysat someone who was a roommate with a college student who once read a book called “Vladimir Lenin: Was He Really All That Bad?”
Both senators are presenting Pennsylvanian with the same choice as they are giving the nation: a candidacy of hope, inspiration, and results, or a candidacy with a slightly different mix of hope, inspiration, and results. When the results are in, either one candidate or the other will be the victor, or, most likely, a stalemated outcome that doesn’t produce any clear-cut winner and this whole thing drags out until they’re pulling random people off the street to vote in San Juan to crown the victor. Of course, there’s going to be one clear winner: Pennsylvania. When this is finally—finally!—over, Pennsylvania can go back to being complacently ignored.
Now, that’s something worth clinging to.