Monday, September 17, 2007

Book Review: Pennsylvania Elections

Written by John J. Kennedy, who teaches political science at West Chester University, this 2006 imprint from University Press of America is a great introduction to, as the title says Pennsylvania elections: Statewide contests from 1950-2004. As someone who didn't grow up in the area, I found the synopsis of individual elections very informative. The subtitle is a little misleading. The chapters on are the political geography of Pennsylvania, senate elections, gubernatorial elections, row offices (lt gov, internal affairs, treasurer, auditor general, and attorney general), and presidential elections. Internal affairs was abolished in 1968. There are maps and a lot of statistics. All in all I'm finding it a good reference and picking up a lot of background of feuds and divisions that happened before I started paying attention to things.

Kennedy doesn't pull his punches in describing elections. For instance, here are two paragraphs from the section on the state treasurer's race of 1976:

Of all the elections discussed in this book, perhaps the most peculiar was the state treasurer's election of 1976. To a casual observer, things appeared normal enough, with the Republicans offering State Representative Patricia Crawford of Chester County and the Democrats Robert Casey (who had defeated future Treasurer Catherine Baker Knoll in the primary). But the Democratic candidate was Robert E. Casey, not the Robert P. Casey who had twice suffered narrow defeats in the Democratic primary for governor and whose term as state auditor general had just wound down.

We'll never know how many voters cast ballots thinking they were voting for the popular veteran politician, but one can assume that just enough of them did to elect Robert E. Casey, the Cambria County recorder of deeds, by a 254,000-vote margin. Casey, who made it no secret that he planned to benefit from the voters' confusion, ran a stealth campaign from the basement of a Harrisburg office building that had no telephones. Although Crawford argued that Casey was "running on the reputation of another man," not enough voters seemed to notice in the midst of highly charged presidential and senatorial contests. The 57-year-old Democrat shrugged off criticism, pointing out that he had the name longer than his younger, more famous namesake.

That's actually one of the tamer passages; I made an effort to find something about a candidate or official who is no longer actively on the scene. If you want to know who called his opponent a "pantywaist" or in what year did both candidates for Attorney General eventually wind up in prison, you'll have to read the book.

In 1999 Kennedy published his first book, called The Contemporary Pennsylvania Legislature. I think it might be time for a second edition.

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