It's an old political adage: Pennsylvania consists of "Philadelphia in the east, Pittsburgh in the west and Alabama in the middle."
The largest cities go to Democrats, while mountainous central Pennsylvania is awash with Republican red. But with high turnout widely expected in Tuesday's election, the political reality from Bellefonte to Bedford could prove more complicated.
"I always judge it by absentee ballots - and it's big," Bedford County elections officer Peg Koenig said last week.
Area election officers predicted turnout levels from 50 to 75 percent, indicating continued interest even after a 2008 presidential race that broke 40-year records.
"For presidential [races], we always have a high turnout. And I've had a lot of people changing registrations," Koenig said.
Party-affiliation numbers have been shifting, and despite cliches suggesting west-central Pennsylvania votes only one way, two nearby counties - Cambria and Centre - went to then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2008.
Still, some of the last four years' registration shifts don't bode well for Democratic candidates.
Since Obama took Cambria County by a narrow 456-vote margin, the county has lost nearly 6,000 Democrats while Republican numbers have remained largely the same.
In Clearfield County, the Democratic Party has lost its slim 400-member registration edge.
And in Bedford County, Koenig said, many voters who switched to the left in 2008 have since returned to fill out fresh paperwork.
"This year they were switching back to Republican," she said, laughing.
Bedford County rates as one of the state's most conservative areas. In 2008, Republican candidate Sen. John McCain beat Obama there by a 72 to 27 percent blowout - only neighboring Fulton County went further into the Republican camp.
And more populous Blair County isn't far behind: Republicans in the county show an overwhelming edge, both in raw numbers and in election results. Blair County voters haven't shown a tendency to switch parties, assistant elections director Sarah Seymour said last week, but more residents have registered since 2008.
Only one region in west-central Pennsylvania, it seems, has bucked the trend: Centre County, with its tens of thousands of Penn State University students, went Democratic in 2008 and hasn't looked back.
"[Turnout] will probably be high," Centre County assistant elections director Jodi Neidig said, estimating a repeat of the student-heavy 75 percent turnout the county saw in 2008. "It's a presidential election, and that seems to be the only election that [students] are really interested in."
Centre County is home to thousands more registered voters than even its most populous neighbors, and in 2008 they helped make it one of the few regions between Pittsburgh and Greater Philadelphia to go solidly for Obama.
"Before 2008, this county was more Republican than Democrat," Neidig said.
The region's changing voter demographics can be attributed as much to an aging and draining population as to a sudden shift in voters' feelings, Penn State Altoona political science assistant professor Nicholas Pyeatt said.
"Everything outside Pittsburgh has been a little more friendly to the Republican Party over time," Pyeatt said, noting that social issues and the perception of a "war on coal" have had an effect in blue-collar areas like Cambria County.
With just one county switching to the Democrats in what seems to be a deepening sea of conservatism, it's possible that the old adage about central Pennsylvania could be at least partly true.
And based on the 2008 election's results, it seems likely that the region will cast far more ballots for Republican challenger Mitt Romney than for the president.
Statewide polls have consistently shown a lead for Obama, Pyeatt said, though Romney and running mate Paul Ryan recently expended time and money in a last-minute campaign drive here.
To secure an upset win, he said, the Republicans would need to draw out thousands more voters from their heartland: central and northern Pennsylvania.
But demographically, it may turn out to be a drop in the bucket: after all, the region's six counties - from Mount Nittany to the Maryland border, and from Johnstown to Mount Union - when combined, still contain fewer registered voters than Bucks County in suburban Philadelphia.
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.