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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Dems Face Challenge in Western PA

Salena Zito’s column, “Pennsylvania 2020: It’s Complicated,” quoted here from the Danville Register and Bee, provides some insights for Democratic prospects in the state. Noting that “The Democrats have gone from a 13-5 minority in the House to a 9-9 split” in PA’s congressional delegation, Zito adds,

But if the Democrats want a victory, they must hone their message. Because here’s the other takeaway from last week’s statewide elections: The western suburbs around Pittsburgh are deepening their allegiance to the GOP.”

As Mike Mikus, a Democratic strategist in western Pennsylvania, puts it: “Philadelphia got bluer, and western Pennsylvania got redder.” In short, not all suburban voters are alike.

“Go too far left on policy positions like banning fracking or Medicare for All or taking people’s guns away anywhere outside of the counties of Philadelphia and they might repeat the same mistakes of 2016,” says G. Terry Madonna, political science professor at Franklin and Marshall College.

Zito also quotes Jeff Brauer, political science professor at Keystone College, who explains that “The big question will be the extent of enthusiasm of his [Trump’s] nonsupporters in the state,” Brauer added. “If that outweighs his base support, that will swing the election against him. It’s something he shouldn’t underestimate.” Further, Zito notes,

This year, Democrats crushed Republican candidates in suburban Philadelphia’s Delaware, Chester and Bucks counties. But Democratic municipal officeholders in the traditionally blue suburban counties around Pittsburgh, such as Beaver, Westmoreland, Washington and Greene, were swept out of county government in favor of Republican candidates. And in commissioners races across the state, Republicans actually flipped more counties than Democrats: Six went from Democrat to Republican, while five went from Republican to Democrat.

Zito adds that, “In 2016, Hillary Clinton did what all Democratic presidential nominees have done since 1992: creamed the Republican opponent in Philadelphia and its suburbs. She even flipped then-Republican stronghold Chester County by over 20,000 votes, a spot Barack Obama was unable to win in 2012.” However, “she essentially lost the rest of the state.” Zito concludes,

This deepening Republican support outside of the Philadelphia suburbs remains a threat to the Democratic nominee, a threat that many political professionals ignored in 2016 and continue to ignore to this day.

“The Democrats still have to choose a palatable presidential candidate who has a measured message as an alternative,” Brauer said. They must “appeal to working-class Trump voters in order to win the state in 2020.”

Some Dems argue that a big turnout in Philly and its ‘burbs should be adequate to win the state’s electoral college votes. That strategy requires a massive mobilization of African-American and progressive women voters. But if Dems rely on eastern PA alone, they may be inviting another disaster.

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