Suburban Philadelphia Republicans suffered historic losses on Nov. 5. Where do they go from here?
To answer that question, consider these important factors:
- President Trump is the GOP’s Barack Obama when it comes to historic victories for himself, but down ballot defeats for his party. Under Obama, the Democrats lost 13 governorships, 816 state legislative seats, 12 U.S. Senate seats and 64 congressional seats. The Trump presidency is following a similar trend but with a key difference. The trajectory may not be as severe because Republicans are reinforcing their support in exurban and rural communities, which will bolster statewide Republican candidates and any suburban districts with exurban communities.
- The number of swing voters is no longer large enough to be pivotal in most races. Swing voters were once the hallmark of suburban elections, and for nearly three decades suburban Philly Republicans excelled at winning them. However, even if these swing voters are willing to vote Republican, there are not enough to carry wins. Plus, most swing voters do not make up their minds until the final week of the election, making identification programs of little value, no matter how sophisticated. The polarization of voters is well-documented and this fever shows no sign of breaking soon.
- There is a national trend of Democratic and Republican communities becoming “More Blue” and “More Red.” While many inner ring “blue” communities expanded their Democratic margin on Tuesday, most exurban “red” communities expanded their Republican margin by an even larger factor. In Delaware County, inner ring Haverford Township expanded its Democratic margin by 20 percent, while exurban Thornbury Township expanded its Republican margin by 68 percent. In Bucks County, inner ring suburb Bristol Township actually reduced its Democratic margin by 15 percent, while exurban Milford Township expanded its Republican margin by nearly 50 percent.
The culture war motivates conservatives to donate. This national fight is now in their backyard, literally.
- Unlike the split governments in Washington or Harrisburg, courthouse Democrats will have an unfettered ability to govern. And they will be under considerable pressure from the left to accomplish what is not getting done elsewhere. Suburban Philadelphia will become the national culture war’s new “ground zero.” This could energize Republican voters while potentially wedging Independent voters against the national trend to vote against the party in the presidency. However, even with municipal and county property taxes and fees anticipated to rise, do not count on a revolt by fixed income voters. Seniors are just as polarized as the rest of the electorate, possibly even more so. After all, the Baby Boomers started the culture war.
What does all this mean?
- Suburban Philadelphia Republicans must build on their current strength: exurban communities. Turnout and registration must be maximized. They can take advantage of the newly passed Vote-By-Mail system, which is ideal for exurban communities. Additionally, straight party voting will be abolished in future Pennsylvania elections. This will likely impact Democrats more than Republicans, as Democrats have few swing voters remaining in their party.
- Voter registration is a lost art for Republicans. During the Obama years, Democrats optimized voter registration to the point where they have few potential people available to register in Suburban Philadelphia. But census and other records show a treasure trove of unregistered Republicans. Nearly 80 percent of newly registered Republicans vote. In addition, Democrats have coordinated no less than five separate organizations whose role is to maximize the commonwealth’s online registration portal. Republicans have nothing similar.
- Money fuels campaigns. Suburban Philadelphia Republicans must build a new fundraising base. Incumbency led them to rely on traditional sources of fundraising, who will either become inaccessible or are aging. Nonetheless, 23 of the commonwealth’s Top 25 Wealthiest Zip Codes are in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Twenty-five percent of the commonwealth’s registered Republicans live in Southeastern Pennsylvania. The culture war motivates conservatives to donate. This national fight is now in their backyard, literally.
- The Democratic coalition may prove to be difficult to manage. Courthouse Democrats will likely face severe pressure to implement liberal policies, as there will be no excuse for failing to deliver. State Democratic legislators, with limited ability to enact similar liberal policies, will face increasing pressure from their left flank. This is already happening in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, where socialists ousted Democratic incumbents from their state legislative seats. This trend is likely to expand to suburban Philadelphia, with a key difference: suburban legislative districts can be highly competitive for Republicans running against socialists.
A single entity must be created that educates voters on liberal policies, builds a donor base, and coordinates voter registration and other Get-Out-The-Vote tactics. Multiple organizations will confuse donors and voters, while unnecessarily driving up costs. Just as importantly, these tactics can be executed affordably with existing technology. There are ample models to improve upon that can be tailored to Suburban Philadelphia. And, the county Republican committees must get back to the basics of candidate recruitment and implementing effective campaigns.
Executing all of this will position suburban Philadelphia Republicans to counter-balance the surging Democratic tide during the Trump presidency while positioning them for immediate success should a Democrat assume the presidency.
Athan Koutsiouroumbas is a former congressional chief of staff and managing director of Long Nyquist and Associates Greater Philadelphia Office.