The Democratic Party’s success at the ballot booth on Election Day in Chester County came from the right mix of candidates, organization, issues, and voter temperament, political observers said Wednesday after waking up to a new electoral map.
Not only did voters in the county elect its first Democratic congresswoman, but it sent a total of eight party members to the state Capitol in Harrisburg — two new state senators, five new state representatives, and one incumbent representative.
The county’s Democrats also lent their voting power to the two races at the top of Tuesday’s ticket — U.S. senator and governor. Incumbent U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and Gov. Tom Wolf both won their votes in the county by healthy margins, adding to their statewide totals.
“Chester County is known for its rich history and news of a blue wave of historic proportions is being felt tonight,” said county Democratic Party Chairman Dick Bingham in a statement issued Wednesday after first-time congressional candidate Chrissy Houlahan had declared victory in her race for Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District seat in the House of Representatives.
“We wake up today to multiple historic accomplishments,” he declared. “With a gap of 11,500 fewer registered Democrats than Republicans, the wins across the county were astounding. Thanks to the coordinated efforts of thousands of volunteers and a dozen strong candidates, we turned the county blue despite the heavy Republican advantage.”
Houlahan was the night’s big winner among county candidates, besting Republican opponent Greg McCauley by 58 percent to 41 percent in unofficial returns. She got 138,829 votes in the county — 36,687 more in neighboring Berks County, the northern tip of the newly created district — to McCauley’s 96,754, and won all but 29 of the county’s 228 precincts.
She won in the north of Chester County, the central municipalities along Route 30, the developments in the south, the horse country in the west and the suburban sprawl of the east. She won in traditional Democratic strongholds such as West Chester, Phoenixville, and Coatesville, but also in Republican bastions such as East Goshen, Westtown, 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.
Houlahan won by large margins and small. In Coatesville’s 3rd Ward, she took 443 of the 470 ballots cast — for 94 percent of the vote. But she also won some squeakers — in one Willistown precinct she edged McCauley by three votes, 242 to 239.
“We made history together tonight thanks to the incredible work and dedication of our campaign’s countless supporters,” said Houlahan in a statement issued by her campaign Tuesday. “Our success in this election proved that people of good conscience can still come together, regardless of party or politics, around long-standing Pennsylvania values of civility and service. I look forward to building on our success in this new Congress to address the challenges we face as a community and as a country.”
At the statewide level, Democrats re-elected state Rep. Carolyn Comitta to a second term in the 156th Legislative District. They also gave victories to Tim Kearney in the 26th Senatorial District previously held by Thomas McGarrigle Sr. of Delaware County, and Katie Muth, who won in the 44th state Senatorial District over incumbent John Rafferty of Montgomery County.
Also winning were newcomers Dan K. Williams in the 74 Legislative District — the county’s first black Democratic state representative — Danielle Friel Otten in the 155th District, Melissa Shusterman in the 157th District, Christina Sappey in the 158th District, and Kristine Howard in the 167th District. The last four bested incumbent Republicans Becky Corbin, Warren Kampf, Eric Roe and Duane Milne, respectively.
In an interview Wednesday, John Kennedy, professor of political science at West Chester University, said the county’s vote for democrats underscored the changing face of the political map across southeastern Pennsylvania.
“I think the results are from a combination of factors,” he said. “You had candidates who were well matched for the district — women in many instances — and who provided an antidote to (President Donald) Trump,” whose name was not on the ballot but who campaigned across the nation, and in Pennsylvania, as if it were.
“The Republicans had to deal with the shadow of Trump, and their top of the ticket candidates” — Lou Barletta for Senate and Scott Wagner for governor — "were strongly identified with the president,” he said.
Kennedy said there has been for some time a path for county Democrats to make it to the state Capitol, “but this being the kind of year it is made that easier. Republicans were more vulnerable, and the same way it happened in Montgomery County, the balance has shifted.”
Commissioners' Vice Chairwoman Kathi Cozzone, the county’s top elected Democrat, said she believed two factors were prevalent that contributed to the party’s success — good candidates and a well organized voter outreach.
“The state House is now going to start to look a little bit more like what Pennsylvania looks like,” Cozzone said in an interview Wednesday. “I think the voters sent a real message that we want people in Harrisburg to do the right things, and we want you to get it done. I am excited, and really proud of all of our candidates. They worked very hard and spoke to tens of thousands of voters.”
Cozzone also said that voter outreach and canvassing efforts by the party’s volunteers were essential in winning the election. Although past campaigns had used those resources, they were not to the “breadth and depth” that appeared across the county in 2018. “We had a really good ground game,” she said.
Comitta, who in 2016 won back a district — the 156th in and around West Chester — that had flipped from Republican to Democrat and back to Republican — said matching candidates with the issues that mattered to county residents was key to the party’s success.
“I think that people in Chester County all live somewhere in the center of the political world and have a good sense of democracy and fairness,” she said Wednesday. “When things get out of whack, we tend to say, bring it back to the center.
“Most of us are moderate, but care about social issues like health care, safety in their homes and schools, environmental conditions, and reproductive rights,” Comitta said. “The voters voted for the people who they felt would protect those individual rights.”
Full election results are available at www.chesco.org.