The Philly Suburbs Purge Once Dominant Republican Party

If you will indulge me a little in my parochialism, I do want to highlight just what it means that Democrat Chrissy Houlahan was just elected to serve as the representative in Congress for Chester County (and a little slice of Berks County), Pennsylvania. This is from my local paper:

The last Democrat to be elected to represent Chester County in Washington, D.C., was the West Bradford native John Hickman, who interestingly came to national politics at a an earlier time of great strife and divide in American — a fight that would eventually lead to secession of the South and a bloody war.

A former county district attorney, Hickman, a Quaker, ran on the party ticket in 1855 and was elected to three more terms, first as a Democrat, then as a so-called Anti-Lecompton Democrat opposed to slavery, and finally as a Republican in 1861 when that party led the charge against slavery and elected Abraham Lincoln president. Hickman did not seek a new term in 1863, and the GOP has been winning elections for Congress in the county since, even as it has been split into halves and sometimes thirds because of redistricting.

Even Mr. Hickman didn’t feel like he could remain a Democrat in Chester County. But things have certainly changed, and not only in which party shows a concern for the plight of our country’s African-American community.

In unofficial and partial results, Houlahan had 160,199 votes to Republican Greg McCauley’s 110,678 votes, or 59 percent to 41 percent.

In Chester County, she led with 59 percent, or 123,512, to McCauley’s 40 percent, or 84,536 votes, with 92 percent of the precincts reporting.

In Berks County, the northern tip of the district, with all of the county’s 101 precincts in the district tallied, Houlahan had 36,687 votes to McCauley’s 26,142 votes, or 58 percent to 42 percent…

…Houlahan won in the north of Chester County, the central area, the south, the west and the east. She won in traditional Democratic strongholds such as West Chester, Phoenixville, and Coatesville, but also in Republican bastions such as East Goshen and Uwchlan.

She even swept McCauley in his home township of Pennsbury, in one precinct by the unheard of total of 79 percent to his 20 percent. Turnout across Chester County exceeded 67 percent, far above recent midterm election totals.

Exactly one year ago, I wrote about the shattering realignment that had occurred in our off-year elections here in Chester County and also in bordering Delaware County.

Here in the Philly suburbs, the realignment definitely came, and it came with historic force. Nowhere was that clearer than in Chester and Delaware Counties. In Chester County, the Democrats won races for four so-called “row office” positions, with a general massacre of Republican officeholders throughout the county that extended even to magisterial district judges. For perspective, since Chester County was incorporated in the 18th century, no Democrat had ever been elected to any of the nine row office positions.

In Delaware County, the Democrats won two county Council seats and took all three of the row offices that were on the ballot. Amazingly, this is the first time in history that any Democrat has won a competitive countywide election there.

These results for the local GOP are equivalent to what happened to the Democratic Party in the South over the last couple of decades.

The alignment continued this year, with just as much force. This is from a Delaware County paper.

The GOP suffered historic losses. [In the U.S. congressional race] Pearl Kim, with little or no support from the national [Republican] party, came up short vs. [Mary Gay] Scanlon.

Even more shocking were losses in state House and Senate races.

Incumbent Tom McGarrigle, R-26 of Springfield, lost his battle vs. Democratic mayor of Swarthmore Tim Kearney. It was not a good night for the Springfield GOP. State Rep. Alex Charlton, R-165, was upended by Democrat challenger Jenn O’Mara.

In Upper Darby, popular incumbent Rep. Jamie Santora, R-163, was ousted by Democrat Mike Zabel.

In the 162nd, where Democrat labor leader Dave Delloso and former Republican county sheriff Mary Hopper were battling to fill the seat being vacated by Rep. Nick Miccarelli, Delloso came out on top.

You have to go back to the post-Watergate backlash in 1974 to find a similar rebuke for the Delco GOP.

Ironically, incumbent Middletown Rep. Chris Quinn, R-168, who was under intense heat from groups opposed to Sunoco’s Mariner East 2 pipeline plan, appears to have survived, clinging to a narrow lead over Democrat challenger Kristin Seale.

The only GOP holdover to post a convincing win was stalwart Rep. Steve Barrar, R-160, whose district covers parts of both western Delaware County and Chester County. The Delco delegation in Harrisburg has been transformed, now dominated by Democrats where once this was the solid turf of the GOP.

Of course, Steve Barrar was the Republican I chose to profile before the election, but I wouldn’t call his victory “convincing.” He did win 57-43 in the Delaware County portion of the district, but he lost 42-58 in the Chester County portion. He’s just lucky that Delaware makes up the greater half. In the end, Barrar won by less than a thousand votes with a 51-49 advantage.

So far, this does not necessarily portend greater strength for the Democrats in statewide elections, because rural Pennsylvanians have been moving in the opposite direction. But it is most definitely a major, historic realignment that is at least as dramatic as the loss of the Democratic South.  These areas were every bit as unfriendly to Democrats as Alabama was to Republicans for most of the 20th Century, and without the advantage of Jim Crow laws to protect the one-party system.  Trump has put what was a slow, faltering process on turbocharged greased skids.

Unfortunately, he’s also maintaining and in places growing the support that put him in the Oval Office. The Democrats need a plan for addressing that half of the equation or the Philly suburbs ain’t gonna save us.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.