Pennsylvania Governor: Can Allyson Schwartz Make It to Harrisburg?

Stuart Rothenberg April 11, 2013 · 9:46 AM EDT

Philadelphia Democratic Rep. Allyson Schwartz recently confirmed what everyone had already suspected: She is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in Pennsylvania.

The big question is whether someone from southeastern Pennsylvania can get nominated, let alone win the governorship. During the past 35 years, only one politician from the southeastern corner of the state, former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, has been nominated. He also won two general elections.

To wit:

Except for Rendell, that’s a long string of nominees from both parties from outside Philadelphia.

In Senate races, candidates from southeastern Pennsylvania have done a bit better.

Former Philadelphia District Attorney Arlen Specter was elected and re-elected repeatedly as a Republican, but he ended his career as a Democrat, while Republican Richard Schweiker represented a suburban Philadelphia congressional district in the House before winning a Senate seat in 1968. He was re-elected six years later but did not seek re-election in 1980.

Democrat Harris Wofford, who won a special election to complete the remainder of the late Sen. John Heinz’s term, was a New Yorker, but he spent eight years as president of Bryn Mawr College, located in Philadelphia’s Main Line suburbs.

The lack of success of gubernatorial candidates from metropolitan Philadelphia isn’t a fluke.

Voters in western Pennsylvania have tended to be more loyal to their region, and they have backed their own candidates. And because northeast Pennsylvania voters have more in common culturally with western Pennsylvania voters than with Philadelphia-area voters, it isn’t surprising that candidates from southeastern Pennsylvania have trouble running statewide.

But given the commonwealth’s recent voting patterns, Philadelphia-based candidates may now be stronger within the Democratic Party than they were 30 or 40 years ago.

So far this cycle, two heavyweights for the Democratic nomination for governor, Schwartz and state Treasurer Rob McCord, are from the southeast. Former Rep. Joe Sestak, who represented the Philadelphia suburbs, is mentioned but has not said he is running. At least a couple of other interesting candidates from the region also are running, as is a wealthy businessman from York, which is west of Philadelphia and southeast of Harrisburg.

A major candidate from western Pennsylvania has not yet joined in the race, but that could change, especially if the overabundance of hopefuls from the southeast creates a clear route to victory for an ambitious Pittsburgh-area Democrat.

The Democratic nomination for governor is valuable this year because the incumbent Republican governor’s job approval numbers are mediocre. But the question remains: How will the state’s geography play in 2014?