Young activists make their mark at the polls

Local students become part of the political process, work election day

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
You may be a little sick of politics right now. Okay, a couple of folks I know have made it clear that if they see another political ad on their TV, they might just throw a brick through it.

But not everyone is, and thankfully for our future, a number of local youths were getting their baptism by fire, working local polling places and trying to find that rarest of rare person — the undecided voter — and persuade them to vote for the Republican ticket.

Working the poll outside of the Pennsbury Township building Tuesday, I caught up with four young people, Julia Tremblay and Natalie Murphy, seniors at Unionville High School, and Kimmy Woods and Dominick DiFillippo, both Engle Middle School students from the Avon Grove area were getting a first-hand exposure to retail politics.

Murphy, the daughter of Unionville-Chadds Ford School Board member Frank Murphy, is no stranger to working the polls on election day, while for the other three, Tuesday was a first time getting to meet voters up close and personal.

From left, Natalie Murphy, Julia Tremblay, seniors at Unionville High School and Kimmy Woods and Dominick DiFillippo, eighth graders at Engle Middle School in Avon Grove work the polls in Pennsbury, Tuesday.

“I’m here because I want to get a job when I get out of school,” Murphy said, suggesting that she feels President Barack Obama’s economy policies are hurting economic growth and opportunity as her primary reason for supporting Republican Mitt Romney. She said that growing up watching her father run for various offices — he served as an Aston Township Commissioner before moving into the Unionville district — sparked a hope in the younger Murphy to potentially make politics a career.

“I’m kind of a political junkie,” she said.

Still, even in a fairly Republican precinct such as the Pennsbury site, not everyone agreed that Romney was the right choice, which led to a couple of uncomfortable encounters for the young activists.

“It’s interesting to see people’s reaction,” Tremblay said. “It can be a little awkward.”

Murphy acknowledged the same thing, as the relative “veteran” of the group, but noted one lesson she’s learned from her father: “If you’re in political office, you can’t make everyone happy.”

Murphy said she also thought it was important to visibly show that not all youth supports Obama, even if there are those who might disagree with her and her cohorts.

Whether you agree with them or not, you have to be excited to see students with such passion about politics and the future of their country. While it might be easy for folks to suggest that passionate and involved Democrats and Republicans as opposites, I’m not sure they really are.

Those in the fraternity of politics, regardless one’s party affiliation, all share a passion for the future and the willingness to do something about it. They share the missed nights at home with family, being the brunt of personal attacks and often, long, thankless days of work. The real opposite are those folks who sit on the couch, complain on Facebook about politicians, but then can’t even be bothered to show up and vote. Republicans and Democrats may not agree on many things, but clearly they both agree that actually working to shape the future of the country matters.

These four young people, though, some of whom are years from casting their first ballots, decided to get involved and work for what they believe in. They are becoming an active part of their futures — and I hope to see more like them in the coming years.

* * *

The final results from Tuesday are probably more of a mixed bag for both local parties than one might imagine.

Yes, to be sure the national and even statewide numbers were nothing short of disappointing for Republicans. Clearly, they need to get a better handle on polling and campaign management. Data is the lifeblood of a campaign. If you have bad data, you have a bad plan and a bad outcome.

But the story is a little different in Chester County.

Despite the efforts of the Obama campaign — and years of planning and no small amount of money — local Republicans were able to build a firewall and hold off Democrats in virtually every downballot race.

Speaking privately to Democrats before the election, they were fairly confident they would pick up two and as many as four state house seats this week, and the numbers pre-election suggested they had a point. In 2008, when Obama won the county — the first Democrat to win the county since Lyndon Johnson in 1964 — Democrats won three house seats, only to lose all of them in 2010.

In 2012, they won none.

2012 was probably Democrats last, best hope to win more than one seat for the next couple of cycles, assuming version no. 2 of the legislative redistricting survives a court challenge. The new districts create a mid-county Democratic-leaning district surrounding Coatesville (with Josh Maxwell, the Downingtown mayor, emerging as the early favorite), while all of the other remaining Chester County districts look to be tougher uphill climbs for Democrats.

But the 2012 GOP firewall held in Chester County — and while it’s hard to ever see Republicans as underdogs, it’s fair to argue that they were outgunned in this cycle by the Obama machine, which was efficient and operated primarily outside of the normal Democratic Party structures.

Romney’s campaign didn’t put the kind of assets in the county that Obama did and was far more dependent on the rank-and-file of the party to deliver, and it largely did, holding onto every house seat and winning the county for Romney.

This was a real triumph for the county party — and party chair Val DiGiorgio and Romney/Chesco Chair Ryan Costello — and its old-school network of committee people and bodes well for the GOP for the coming years, even as demographics in the county continue to move toward the Democrats.

If Democrats have to scratch their heads and wonder what the future holds — and whether they can ever mount an effective election operation without Barack Obama, the future could be equally murky for Republicans in the coming years. While the old guard members and new Tea Party activists were able to put aside their differences and work together in an attempt to defeat Obama, those differences may already start to come out in the coming year, as both sides nationally and locally point the finger of blame at each other for the GOPs losses.

While Republicans have an odd-numbered year to sort things out — local races tend to be less partisan and more personal and few take the row office races seriously, including, it seems the Democrats of Chester County, which are something like 0-fer-the last couple centuries in these races — any rift could prove serious in 2014 when Gov. Tom Corbett’s reelection prospects seem shaky at best right now.

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