Pittsburgh Residents Weigh in on 2016 Election

By Ahmari Anthony| Urban Agenda

With catchphrases like “Make America Great Again” and “America is Already Great” being shouted back and forth by citizens, elected officials and candidates, the current state of the country — and the future — is clearly unsure.

Pennsylvania has 20 electoral votes, tied for the fourth most in the U.S. with Illinois, making the state key in deciding the outcome of the November presidential election, experts agree. The historic election is less than 100 days away.

Patrick Riley, a 44-year-old New Kensington resident, observes this uncertainty, especially within the political parties.

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“It seems like people on both sides seem so angry with each other, more than ever … the supporters really hate the other candidate … and I can remember presidential elections all the way back to Jimmy Carter,” he said.Salena Zito, a political columnist for the Tribune-Review, agreed, referring to the election in Pennsylvania multiple times as “the great unknown.”

Pennsylvania has voted Democrat in nine of the 13 latest presidential elections: 1964, 1968, 1976 and 1992 through 2012, according to archives.gov. Despite the state’s six consecutive Democratic votes in presidential elections, almost anywhere from 66 to 83 percent of the counties vote Republican.

According to statistics, the game changer could be the urban centers. The three most populous counties — Philadelphia, Allegheny and Montgomery — have voted blue in all of these

The populations of these counties add up to about 3.5 million, about 70 percent of voters in the state. About 5 million Pennsylvanians vote each year.

But while this, at first glance, might seem like an automatic victory for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, that is not exactly the case, Zito said.

“Pennsylvania has become 0.4 percent more Republican with each presidential election,” she said.

For example, Democrat Bill Clinton won 28 counties in 1996, while Obama won 10 in 2012.

This year in the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton won 37 out of the 67 counties and 55.6 percent of the popular vote. Donald Trump won all 67 counties and
6.7 percent of the popular vote in the Republican primary. Clinton had a strong candidate running against her, Bernie Sanders, while Trump had several opponents, but none with a large following.

Zito says she observed a lot of disunity at the Democratic National Convention, as well as populism.

“Populism is not ideology, but energy,” and this energy is 10 years in the making, she says.

She explains that essentially populism is a discontentment with Washington among the American people. One way to recognize this displeasure is through “wave election cycles,” in which the control of the government is passed back and forth between the two main parties each election.

According to Zito, however, a large factor that could s
cure a Democratic win in Pennsylvania is the black vote, because 94 percent of the black community historically votes for Democrats. She says that the black population in Pennsylvania is not large when compared to other states, but it is large enough to tilt the results of an election within the state.

The Black Political Empowerment Project, an organization whose mission is to have black people vote in every election, has plans to draw out these voters, including placing placards at Port Authority of Allegheny County bus stops on predominantly black routes with the slogan, “Our future is at stake.”

Tim Stevens, chairman and CEO of B-PEP, emphasizes the importance of black people’s participation in every election, not just presidential ones.

“We need the political system to be our partner,” Stevens said.

To jumpstart this partnership, B-PEP will reach out to community members through churches and so-called “super centers” — such as the Kingsley Center in Larimer, the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in the North Side, the Hill House Association in the Hill District and the Hosanna House in Wilkinsburg — to distribute voter registration forms and encourage pastors to get their congregations to vote. B-PEP also will be re-implementing its “Roll to the Polls” program in November, which offers free transportation t
o the polls to people in predominantly black neighborhoods.

But Dave Majernik, vice chair of the Allegheny County Republican Committee, maintains hope for the presidential election.

Trump’s appeal to blue-collar workers, law enforcement and those in manufacturing jobs makes Majernik confident that he has a good chance of winning.

“Hillary doesn’t care about the common people,” Majernik says.

Majernik goes on to say that the way Trump is popularly portrayed as a “smokescreen by the Hillary campaign” because “Hillary Clinton doesn’t have good issues to run on.”

While the Democratic Party creates “scarcity and poverty,” his party stands for “the free market, freedom, getting ahead and opportunity,” he said.

Man 1Zito agrees that this year may result in a Republican win in Pennsylvania. She likens the presidential elections in Pennsylvania to Lucy van Pelt and Charlie Brown playing football. The Republican Party is Charlie Brown, winding up to kick, while the Democratic Party is Lucy, always pulling the ball back at the last moment, she says.

“But this year might be the year, if any, for an opportunity,” Zito says.

Vice chair of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, Austin Davis, feels his party will be successful this year. He says the party has been unified since the end of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and believes this is because there is “a lot at stake” in this election.

Davis has high hopes for Katie McGinty in the Senate race. He says her Allegheny County popularity was low in the primaries because of a local mayor also in the race — John Fetterman of Braddock. But once voters “get to know her plan and vision,” and examine Sen. Pat Toomey’s record, she will win them over, he predicts.

He is somewhat concerned about Trump’s appeal to the white working class, which is a large demographic in Pennsylvania. However, he points to Clinton’s record in the Senate making jobs, especially manufacturing jobs and coal jobs, to show how she is capable of working to benefit Pennsylvanians.

Ozell Hayes, a traveler registered to vote in Detroit but visiting Pittsburgh for three or four months, says Clinton appeals to him not only because of her stance on the issues, but also because of her experience.

“I trust her,” Ozell says firmly.

Sam Gantt III, born in Jacksonville but a Pittsburgh resident for more than 50 years, has supported Clinton, even prior to the primaries. He self-identifies as a Democrat and says that fact will affect his voting in the other elections this November.

“We need to get that Senate and that House,” Gantt says. He says he will be voting for the Democratic candidate for the Pennsylvania U.S. Senate seat.

Others weren’t as sure. Many were aware of the Senate race, but all except for Robert Dent, a 53-year-old Philadelphia resident visiting Pittsburgh, did not have a favorite.

“I know that Toomey has to go,” Dent says.

Dent considers local elections to be crucial.

There are several other public office positions up for grabs this November, including state attorney general, 25 out of 50 state senatorial district seats, more than 100 state legislative district seats, 18 state congressional districts and the all-important U.S. Senate seat.

“They’re very important because they’re where politicians get their start. … Get involved … Think locally, act locally,” Dent says.

Ryan Repinski, a 40-year-old Wexford resident, agrees.

“Most people forget they’re the most important,” Repinski says.

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