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April 13, 2015

Could Pennsylvania swing right in 2016?

Recent polling favors Clinton, but it's closer than expected for now

Politics Presidential
Hillary Clinton Elise Amendola/AP

Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks at the Massachusetts Conference for Women in Boston, Thursday, Dec. 4, 2014.

Pennsylvania, historically, has been referred to as a swing state in U.S. presidential elections.

But that simply hasn't been the case in terms of outcomes for a long time. While the Keystone State's coveted electoral votes have been decided by relatively close margins in every year other than 1992 (George H.W. Bush lost to Clinton by nearly 10 points, possibly thanks to spoiler Ross Perot), the last time Pennsylvania turned red on Election Tuesday was 1988. 

Early polling doesn't favor the GOP reversing that trend in 2016. Hillary Clinton, who essentially has the Democratic nomination locked up barring a reincarnation of 2008 Barack Obama, trails only Rand Paul among potential and declared Republican candidates in Pennsylvania in the most recent Quinnipiac polls


 Rand Paul  Marco Rubio Ted Cruz
Republican Candidate 45 42 39 
Clinton 44 46  48


  Chris ChristieJeb Bush  Scott Walker Mike Huckabee
 Republican Candidate40 40 4041 
 Clinton 45 46 46 47

Clinton's lead over Huckabee, Bush, and Christie has dropped significantly since the news broke of her using a private email account while serving as secretary of state. Additionally, around half of those polled said the email issues would affect their vote, while 41 percent said they were less likely to vote for her because of it. But 54 percent said it wouldn't factor in their decision.

Besides, Clinton has some big guns in Pennsylvania to blaze the campaign trail. Former Governor Ed Rendell and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter are big supporters, and worked hard for her state victory in the 2008 primaries. It's also safe to assume that relatively new Democratic Governor Tom Wolf will be on the march for Clinton once the race heats up.

So, what would it take for the state to swing Republican in 2016? It will be extremely diffcicult to tell until a frontrunner emerges for the GOP. The key for whomever ends up with the nomination may be mobilization, however, not swaying voters on the fence. Nate Silver addressed Pennsylvania's electoral makeup during the 2012 election, reinforcing the idea that between the conservatives in the center of the state and the liberal voters in Philly and Pittsburgh, many have already made up their minds. 

As Silver explained after the 2012 election, Pennsylvania could become important for Republicans in future presidential elections for this very reason. A Republican candidate could make a hard push early in the election and focus on outperforming Clinton in turnout rather than trying to rack up the few swing voters out there. 

But even then, Silver notes, Clinton's high popularity in the state would most likely damper the hopes of the GOP taking the state in 2016. Oh, and don't forget that Clinton's likely nomination will occur right here in Philadelphia, exactly the place where Republicans would need lower turnout to swing the state.

Emailgate hurt Clinton in Pennsylvania, but it wasn't devastating. It's likely the hubbub will fade before too long. Stories about Obama's connection with former Weather Underground member William Ayers as well as controversial pastor Jeremiah Wright circulated early in 2008. His campaign recovered, all while facing heat from both Republicans and Clinton. 

It's obviously too early to tell for sure, but the signs point to Pennsylvania staying blue come November of next year. With a pocketbook of big names to campaign, an anticipated coronation right in the heart of the state's Democratic base, and polling that doesn't overwhelmingly favor any of her potential challengers, the safe money is on Clinton.