When Democratic Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney was reelected on election night 2019 with 81 percent of the vote, his victory wasn’t especially surprising: Philly has been deep blue for decades and hasn’t elected a GOP mayor since Republican Bernard Samuel left office in the early 1950s. The really big political news on Tuesday night was in the Philadelphia suburbs, which used to be much more GOP-friendly than Philadelphia proper — and Republican Ryan Costello, who formerly served in the U.S. House of Representatives via Philadelphia’s Chester County suburbs, is warning that Democratic victories in suburban Philadelphia are an ominous sign for his party.
Costello was among the people journalist Holly Otterbein interviewed for an article published in Politico on November 6. Otterbein reports that while this week’s Democratic victories in Virginia (where Democrats recaptured both houses of the state legislature) and Kentucky (where Democrat Andy Beshear narrowly defeated incumbent GOP Gov. Matt Bevin) “captured the national headlines,” Pennsylvania was “the state that sounded the loudest alarm for President Donald Trump.” And that “alarm” has been sounded, Otterbein reports, because the GOP “continued to lose ground” in the suburban counties surrounding Philly — all of which are now “dominated by Democrats.”
In the 1980s and 1990s, Pennsylvania’s political landscape was as follows: Philadelphia Proper was deep blue, the Philly suburbs (Delaware County, Montgomery County, Chester County, Bucks County) were friendly to moderate Republicans, and Central Pennsylvania was jokingly referred to as “Pennsyltucky” because it was so conservative compared to Philadelphia or Pittsburgh. Democratic strategist James Carville famously referred to Central Pennsylvania as “Alabama in between.”
Costello is an expert when it comes to winning over suburban Philadelphians as a Republican: he served on the Chester County Board of Commissioners from 2011-2014 before being elected to U.S. House of Representatives via the 6th Congressional District (which is in Chester County) in 2014. Costello was reelected in 2016 but decided not to seek reelection in 2018, and he has been warning that Trumpism is absolutely toxic in suburban districts like the one he represented in Congress.
Costello told Politico, “The anti-Trump sentiment in the suburbs hasn’t dissipated at all. Democrats have won counties they never, ever, ever won. The trend from red to blue has accelerated in the last few years, and there’s only one reason for that.”
The former congressman went on to say that all the Democratic victories in the Philly suburbs underscore a larger problem: Trumpism is unpopular in suburban areas in other states as well. Costello warned, “There is not a way to win Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan without holding your deficits down in the suburbs.”
When Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania in the 2016 election, it came as a shock because a Republican presidential candidate hadn’t won the Keystone State since George H.W. Bush’s victory over former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1988. One of Trump’s political strengths has been “Pennsyltucky,” where there was a heavy voter turnout in 2016.
Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman warns fellow Democrats that the last thing they should do is become overconfident based on their triumphs in the Philly suburbs. Trump, Fetterman cautions, is still “formidable” in parts of his state — and Republicans performed surprisingly well in Washington County, which is part of the Greater Pittsburgh Area.
Fetterman told Politico, “It’s wonderful that we have Delaware County for the first time since the Civil War, but Washington County just went red for the first time in over 100 years.”
One of the political upsets in Pennsylvania on election night 2019 was the victory of Working Families candidate Kendra Brooks, who won a seat on the Philadelphia City Council and was endorsed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Philly has an interesting rule: two of its at-large City Council seats have to be reserved for a member of the non-majority party — which means someone who isn’t a Democrat. Usually, those seats go to a moderate Republican, but Brooks ran a left-of-center campaign focusing heavily on small donations — not unlike Sen. Bernie Sanders or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — and won.
Brooks, during her campaign, stressed that she is quite happy to work with progressive Democrats. And Maurice Mitchell, national director of the Working Families Party, has asserted that Brooks voters alone could swing Pennsylvania in favor of a Democratic presidential candidate in 2020.
Mitchell told Politico, “Kendra won with 55,000 votes, and Trump won the entire state of Pennsylvania with 44,000 votes. So, the work we have to do tomorrow is consolidate that coalition…. In a non-delusional way, the Working Families Party coalition in Pennsylvania could rob Trump of his victory in the country and save the world.”