In the past weeks, Broad + Liberty has showcased my post-election analysis offering fascinating trends on the growth in President Trump’s Philadelphia vote-share, ticket-splitting that propelled two Republicans — and one Democrat — to victories in our state “row offices” — and what all this might mean for the future of both parties. 

But did the gains in Philadelphia for Republican candidates translate to crucial down-ballot races, particularly in the state legislature? Today, I take a deep dive into a few key Philly districts to find out what Trump’s coattails might mean for Republicans hoping to expand their reach in the city.

First, let’s look at the state House race in the 170th district, where incumbent Republican Martina White, the only Republican representing Philadelphia in Harrisburg, defeated Democrat Mike Doyle to keep her seat for another two years. White is popular in the district, which stretches from Somerton to Parkwood, and would likely have won no matter who was at the top of the ticket. The Far Northeast is the one region of the city where Republicans have been competitive for years, though voters there often split their tickets (including by supporting Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro in his reelection bid, as I’ve noted before).

This year, there was some considerable ticket-splitting in White’s favor. Trump gained votes in Northeast Philly, but White soared ahead of him in the final tallies, winning her district with 60.5 percent of the vote compared to Trump’s 52.5 percent. As the map below shows, White did better than Trump district-wide, earning a higher vote share than the President in all but one precinct.

Overall, in the Far Northeast, incumbent Republican Martina White outpaced the President. In the Lower Northeast and Riverwards, challenger John Nungesser did not.

But what about areas in which down-ballot candidates needed a boost from Trump? In the 177th district, which snakes across the Lower Northeast and Riverwards, from Port Richmond through Bridesburg and up to Mayfair, Trump brought new voters to the Republican column. Some of them stayed with the GOP down-ballot — but not in sufficient numbers for Republican challenger John Nungesser to unseat incumbent State Rep. Joe Hohenstein, a Democrat. Nungesser’s vote tallies more closely tracked Trump’s: he won 40.4 percent of the vote in the district while Trump took 42.1 percent. But for Republicans to unseat incumbent Hohenstein — and win back a formerly Republican district — he would have had to outperform the President.

A look at the map shows where Nungesser lagged Trump. The 64th and 55th wards were Joe Biden’s only bright spots in the Northeast, presumably because Irish Catholic voters favored him slightly more than they did Hillary Clinton in 2016. That carried through to the state representative race, as well, and even more so: Nungesser’s margin was worse than Trump’s in all but two divisions of those wards. 

Overall, in the Far Northeast, incumbent Republican Martina White outpaced the President. In the Lower Northeast and Riverwards, challenger John Nungesser did not.[1] 

Besides Bridesburg, Trump’s strongest growth over his 2016 numbers was in the three wards in North Philadelphia that have the strongest concentration of Hispanic voters. It would be useful, therefore, to examine the state House races in the 180th and 197th districts, which include those wards. However, Republicans didn’t field a candidate in either of those districts, handing Democratic incumbents sure victories — and depriving data nerds of a fascinating 2020 case study.

Higher turnout is traditionally believed to benefit Democrats, but that is something else that may be changing in Philadelphia.

To assess Trump’s coattails, therefore, we have to look at the Congressional race there. All four of Trump’s most-improved wards (the 7th, 19th, 33rd, and 45th) are in the second Congressional District, where incumbent Democrat Brendan Boyle was reelected this year. His opponent in 2020 was the same as 2018, David Torres, a retired sales manager who serves as the GOP’s ward leader in the 19th ward. Examining the change in Torres’s share of the vote should give us a decent proxy for down-ballot improvement in the region.

Results show that Torres cut into Boyle’s votes across these four wards, and not by a little bit. As the map below shows, Trump had serious coattails in the region. Boyle still won easily, but his margin of victory across these four wards declined from 66 percentage points to 44, a massive improvement for Republicans.  Across the entire district, Boyle’s percentage of the vote declined from 79% to 72.5%. In the higher turnout environment of a presidential election year, his number of votes rose from 159,600 in 2018 to 198,268 this year. Meanwhile, Torres’s total improved from 42,382 to 75,083. Higher turnout is traditionally believed to benefit Democrats, but that is something else that may be changing in Philadelphia.[2] 

Is Boyle likely to be unseated in 2022? Probably not. But there is clearly space for Republican candidates to make this part of the city, which includes heavily Hispanic as well as white working class areas, competitive in future races. That could mean fighting for — and even winning — another several state house seats. It certainly means Republicans could apply pressure on Democrats in citywide and statewide races, forcing them to fight for voters they’ve taken for granted.

Improved margins from these neighborhoods could even make the difference in a tight statewide election — like voters can expect when Republican Senator Pat Toomey vacates his seat in 2022.

That competition is good for voters, no matter the result. If one party assumes that they own a certain group’s votes, they have no incentive to address those voters’ needs. Likewise, if the opposing party writes off that same group as unwinnable, they have no motivation to tailor a platform that better serves Philadelphians. 

Following up on Trump’s coattails and expanding the regions in play across the city’s political map is good for the Republican Party and also good for the city itself. The failure of Philadelphia’s one-party government is plain to see; a little competition will force politicians to look after voters instead of themselves.

Kyle Sammin is a senior contributor to The Federalist, co-host of the Conservative Minds podcast, and resident of Montgomery County. He writes regularly for Broad + Liberty@KyleSammin

One thought on “Kyle Sammin: Trump’s ‘coattail effect’ reveals opportunities for Philly Republicans”

  1. Philly Rs have Stockholm Syndrome. You need to purge every ‘Al Schmidt’ or nothing’s going to change.

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