Michael Barone takes a deep-dive into the 33 counties that make up a strong but dwindling Democratic coalition. Obama desperately needs to keep this coalition intact if he is to win Ohio and Pennsylvania and Friday’s jobs report made this effort all the more difficult:
[With expectantly bad unemployment figures being released] Why did the president’s campaign schedule a two-day bus tour of northern Ohio and western Pennsylvania to coincide with the day the unemployment numbers were announced? Sure, Ohio and Pennsylvania are important states politically. They have 18 and 20 electoral votes, and Obama carried them in 2008 with 51 and 54 percent of the votes. [But] current polling shows Obama with only 46 percent in Ohio and 47 percent in Pennsylvania when paired against Mitt Romney.
This was deep blue territory
Obama’s bus tour was aimed at the historically Democratic Rust Belt territory. Since the United Steelworkers, United Auto Workers and United Rubber Workers organized the steel, auto and rubber factories on Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Akron, Youngstown and Toledo, this has been prime Democratic territory. Even in 1984, when Ronald Reagan was winning a 59 to 40 percent landslide, this Rust Belt — 19 counties of northern and eastern Ohio and 14 counties of western Pennsylvania — voted 52 to 47 percent for Walter Mondale. It was 12 points more Democratic than the national average. If these 33 counties had been a single state, they would have cast 19 electoral votes for Mondale, more than doubling the 13 he won from his native Minnesota and the District of Columbia.
Not your daddy’s rust belt
In the years since, the economy of the Rust Belt has changed. The biggest employers in Cleveland and Pittsburgh these days are not steel mills but hospital complexes. There has been considerable outmigration of young people, and from 1980 to 2010, the population of these 33 counties declined by 7 percent, while the national population increased by 36 percent. If they were a single state, they would have 14 electoral votes, down from 19 three decades ago.
Obama feeling its effects
The aging electorate of the Rust Belt remains Democratic, and these counties voted 56 to 42 percent for Barack Obama. But that means that they were only 3 percent more Democratic than the national average. The polling data suggests that Obama is not running as strong in the Rust Belt counties this year. The bus tour was undoubtedly aimed at pushing his numbers up.