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How Nutter's win made history

An analysis finds unprecedented appeal to white voters.

Michael Nutter won between 24 percent and 43 percent of the vote in the city's top 10 wards in which white voters are the majority.
Michael Nutter won between 24 percent and 43 percent of the vote in the city's top 10 wards in which white voters are the majority.Read more

It's too early to make a precise analysis of voting patterns in Tuesday's Democratic mayoral primary. But as of now, it appears that Michael Nutter not only won - he made history.

Based on unofficial vote tallies from predominantly white and black wards, it appears that Nutter got the largest percentage of white votes ever cast for an African American in a Philadelphia mayoral primary.

Political scientists generally agree that the previous high percentage of whites voting for a black in a mayoral primary - the so-called crossover vote - was 20 percent to 25 percent, said pollster G. Terry Madonna of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College.

"Nutter appears to have exceeded that" dramatically, said Madonna. "I don't think there's any doubt."

An Inquirer analysis of the top 10 wards in which whites are a majority, primarily in Northeast Philadelphia, found that Nutter won between 24 percent and 43 percent of the vote. Though not every Nutter ballot cast there was by a white person, the numbers bear out a trend first detected in preelection polling.

"It was very clear that Nutter was making huge inroads with white voters," said Madonna, and the result suggests they went for him in historic numbers.

Of the city's 66 wards, 27 have a majority white population and 34 are majority black; in 5, neither race is the majority, according to an Inquirer analysis of 2000 census data.

Nutter did equally well in majority-white and majority-black wards - about 37 percent of the vote.

He did well in predominantly white Center City wards with a traditionally liberal electorate. Even more telling, Madonna said, was Nutter's showing in the 26th Ward - a mostly white section of South Philadelphia that traditionally has voted along racial lines.

Of 4,100 votes cast in the 26th, Nutter received 765, about 19 percent.

"That's something virtually unheard of," said Madonna. "The other thing I think was helpful, and not widely reported, is how much of the black vote Nutter got. It's that combination of things that we shouldn't overlook."

In the 10 wards with the highest concentration of black voters, Nutter received between 29 percent and 39 percent of votes cast, The Inquirer's analysis found.

David Bositis, senior policy analyst at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank on African American affairs, has kept one eye on Philadelphia's five-way primary. He said the apparent makeup of Nutter's plurality - strong among blacks and whites - as "a positive development in terms of moving beyond racial voting."

Bob Brady and Tom Knox, the two white candidates in the race, received a total of 25 percent of votes cast in majority-black wards. Nutter, Chaka Fattah and Dwight Evans, the three African American candidates, took a total of 44 percent in predominantly white wards.

Voters of both races told reporters that candidates' merits drove their voting decisions.

"With his experience and his message, he was the most intelligent and consistent," said Randy Clever, a white city worker in his 50s, explaining his vote for Nutter.

"It's a positive step in terms of Philadelphia," said Bositis. "I didn't get the impression that Nutter was sort of a black candidate that whites recruited in order to elect their mayor."

In places where that has happened, the candidates "get most of their votes from whites and received relatively few black votes," he said - which is not what happened here on Tuesday.