Alan: Last week, we learned where we are politically right now. By taking the courthouses in Bucks, Delaware and Chester Counties, Pennsylvania’s southeastern counties continued their tilt to Democrat in a convincing way. But, while we all concentrate on the southeast because we live in the southeast, when we look to the western part of the state, we see the reverse happening. Once solid Democrat courthouses and counties are now solidly Republican. We had a flip. But both of those flips have been building for some time. That’s lesson number one.
Lesson number two is that the committee structure is gone. We used to call these committee elections, meaning the voters who came out were political straight-ticket party voters who relied on the knowledge of local candidates or their trust in the local committee people to tell them who to vote for. That’s gone. Organizations matter less. People are making their own decisions.
Lesson number three: it’s a mistake to say this is all anti-Trump. You have to give credit to the people who win. The Democrats knew they had a wave coming, they ran good candidates, they capitalized on local issues, and they organized a better committee structure. Any anti-Trump feelings out there contributed to the wave, but you still need good candidates and you still need to know what to do with that wave and how to take advantage of it.
T.J.: I was hopeful going into this election that there would be unmistakable signs that we could read into and plan for next year. This election told me nothing about next year! These races were determined by a number of factors organically grown. It starts with turnout based upon what we see on TV every night as it relates to Washington, D.C., and ends with candidates who speak to issues that matter to people who vote. But that does not mean 2019 is relatable to 2020. The trends are moving in the right direction for Democrats in certain areas but there are also trends that are troubling and need to be looked into and addressed before next year’s election.
Alan: For Republicans, it is the fact that Democrats spiked turnout, and exceeded the Republicans in straight-ticket voting. That was an advantage Republicans used to have years ago.
T.J.: And turnout for an odd-year election was higher than normal. There is definitely something in the air that’s electrifying and causing people to come out who otherwise don’t come out to vote.
It is critical Democrats nominate somebody for president who can do better in the southwest than we have been doing in quite some time. That’s the challenge. We’ve both run into people who have suggested to us that Donald Trump is not as strong as he was in 2016 — but rather that he is stronger!
In southeastern Pennsylvania and up into the Lehigh Valley, that resulted in some incredible Democrat gains. For those of us who live here, we could feel it coming. But, ask a Democrat in southwestern Pennsylvania and they’re going to tell you the exact same story in reverse. The ground we lost in the southwest is as historic as the gains we made in the southeast. So, you can’t escape the fact that your perspective and its outcome are formed by where you live.
Listen, the trends are decidedly in Democrats’ favor and where they need to be. More people live in the southeast than live in the southwest. That’s important. But, the reason the Democrats were successful in a lot of places was because we ran good candidates. This sounds very simplistic, but who the Democrats nominate next year will be determinative. If Democrats don’t nominate somebody who’s acceptable to a wide swath of Pennsylvania voters, then we won’t win.
Alan: To ignore what was local about this year’s races and just project the results to national races is wrong. I live in one of those counties that flipped, and I can tell you that people who ran successfully ran on local issues that mattered in different pockets of the county. Pipelines were one issue. In another part of the county, it was an issue about a water utility. At the end of the day, successful candidates addressed pockets of issues in different townships. Good local candidates ran on good local issues. That’s important.
Another motivator throughout the southeast was the prospect of a historic opportunity to win the courthouses. Winning the courthouses was very much on the lips of the people working the polls. That hasn’t happened for Democrats, at least not in the lifetime of anybody who’s living now. From there, you could say what is national is the fact that the Democrats are very organized, very enthused, and very motivated. But it doesn’t end there.
T.J.: Which is why it is critical Democrats nominate somebody for president who can do better in the southwest than we have been doing in quite some time. That’s the challenge. We’ve both run into people who have suggested to us that Donald Trump is not as strong as he was in 2016 — but rather that he is stronger! The power of Donald Trump to motivate people far exceeds the ability of any one county, state or national party.
The Green New Deal and Medicare-for-All were not on the ballot on Tuesday. If we nominate somebody who is out of the mainstream, who is unacceptable to that large swath of Pennsylvania voters, my fear is that we will not prevail. Whoever it is, we need to nominate a sensible, rational, acceptable man or woman to take on this president because the issues that really divide us won’t be on the ballot next November.
Alan: A good friend of mine is in baseball and always says each season has its own story. Every election has its own story. When the election is over, the season is over, and then the next story or the next season begins. The 2020 election will have its own story with its own cross currents and its own dramas.
T.J.: The day starts anew. The 2020 races will begin to take shape. My hope is that as a party we spend a great deal of time talking to people in southwestern Pennsylvania to understand how we can move the needle. We need to keep in mind the president raises such passion in people, pro and con.
At the end of the day, I would much rather be in the position that we find ourselves, but that goes away if we don’t nominate somebody who can win Pennsylvania. If we choose to go down a different path, if we want to experiment, if we want to see how far we can push the envelope, that will result in one determined outcome and that is the reelection of the president.
Alan Novak (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a former chairman of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania and T.J. Rooney (email@example.com) is a former chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party. They are principals of Rooney Novak Isenhour Group and appear together regularly to discuss political issues and policy debates.