Stuck in 1984

STUCK IN 1984…. Just yesterday, there a fair amount of discussion about former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) encouraging the Republican Party to give up its “nostalgia” for the heyday of the Reagan era.

There are, not surprisingly, quite a few party leaders who disagree. David Weigel flagged this gem from former Rep. Pat Toomey (R) in Pennsylvania, explaining why he expects to defeat a Democratic Arlen Specter in 2010:

“Reagan carried this state twice. I don’t think this state has changed.”

That’s quite extraordinary, even for Toomey. Weigel added, “Is there any state, or county, or freshwater lake that hasn’t changed since November 1984? This is campaign spin that has the unintended effect of making Toomey sound like he doesn’t realize the scale of his problem in building an electoral coalition in the new Pennsylvania.”

That sounds about right. Either Toomey is just spinning, hoping to convince Republicans to give him the nomination, or he actually believes Pennsylvania’s political attitudes haven’t changed since Walter Mondale won 46% of the vote in the Keystone State a quarter-century ago. (That the Democratic presidential nominee has carried Pennsylvania in five of the last five elections — including President Obama’s double-digit win last year — seems like a relevant detail.)

What’s more, while Toomey doesn’t think “this state has changed,” he may want to take a closer look at the registration numbers from last year.

Democratic voter registration in Pennsylvania has hit a record of more than 4 million voters.

“It’s kind of incredible,” Harry A. VanSickle, the state’s elections commissioner, tells The Caucus as his office prepares to post the new numbers. “It’s the first time we know of that a party in Pennsylvania has gone over 4 million.”

A total of 4,044,952 people are now registered to vote in the Democratic primary; a total of 3,215,478 are registered for the Republican primary.

The shift helped push Arlen Specter out of the party. There are just a lot fewer Republicans in the state than there used to be.

The broader question, I suppose, is just how widespread Toomey’s confusion is. He doesn’t think Pennsylvania has changed since 1984, but the even more salient question is whether his party believes the same thing about the country.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.