Local Democrats appear to enjoy surprising enthusiasm gap

Flap over Parrish’s finances may prove double-edge sword for GOP

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

TimesPoliticsUnusualWith what seemed like a weekend of bad news, followed by the chaos at the start of the Democratic National Convention, if local Democrats seemed a bit down in the dumps, it wouldn’t be surprising.

Instead though — and I witnessed this first-hand at the Kennett Area Democrats office opening last Sunday and have since been hearing similar stories around the county — it appears that Chester County’s Democrats are really fired up for the fall election.

Honestly, after two terms of holding the White House, the party in power tends to see a real enthusiasm gap compared with the party out of power. This year though, I’m seeing the opposite.

Two issues seem to be driving this:

One — Donald J. Trump. While his supporters may love him, rank and file Democrats are legitimately frightened of the idea of a Trump Administration and genuinely fear it could be the end of democracy in our republic. Really. Although Republicans have long portrayed themselves as patriots (and often, sadly, they alone), a lot of Democrats are equally passionate about their country and see Trump as a real threat. Additionally, a lot of rank and file Republicans are luke warm or even hostile to Trump for hijacking their party.

This would not be the case had the GOP nominated Gov. John Kasich, Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio or even Sen. Ted Cruz. 

Two — A lot of rank and file Democrats feel like President Barack Obama was never given a fair shake by Republicans and they’re angry about it. Obama took over in what was the worst crisis since the Great Depression and has managed a slow and steady recovery, albeit an uneven one. He ended an an unpopular war fought for dubious reasons (ironically now, detailed by Trump himself as a mistake). He oversaw the hunt and killing of Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks.

Despite these accomplishments, a lot of Chester County Democrats feel Republicans have completely disrespected Obama — trashing him for little more than political advantage, rooting for the country to fail. Some even attribute it to race — which one hopes hasn’t been a factor — and there is a smoldering anger in some communities over it.

Those two issues have Democrats scared and angry — the worst case scenario for Republicans, who depend on poor voter turnout among the generally more disorganized Democrats. If voters don’t need to be activated, but are already activated, it could spell big trouble for Republicans, not just at the top of the ticket, but in congressional races and state legislative races.

* * *

Finger pointing and questions over the campaign finances of Democrat congressional candidate Mike Parrish continued this past week — and depending on who you talk to, it’s either a giant mess or just a paperwork snafu.

Vince Galko — a campaign consultant for U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello (R-6), sent out a missive this week detailing Parrish’s failure to file his Financial Disclosure Statements and noted Parrish’s campaign was in debt and had been struggling to pay staff — suggesting poor management.

“Mr. Parrish’s lack of judgement raises serious concerns about his ability to hold elective office,” Galko said in a statement.

Parrish’s campaign paints a somewhat different picture — while admitting that fundraising has been tough — that the Disclosure filing was a mixup between the campaign and the Clerk of Congress’ office. Parrish suggests that Costello is seeking to distract voters from his own campaign missteps.

“Quite simply, this is a non-issue,” Parrish said in a statement Friday.  “There is no interesting story here, just a clerical oversight in the Office of the Clerk of Congress.  I am working with the Clerk’s Office to file my FDS.  Mr. Costello is clearly desperate to do anything to distract from his repeated failures of leadership as our Congressman, including his continued support for Donald Trump.  Mr. Costello demonstrated complete cowardice when he stepped down as a delegate to the RNC instead of using his position as an opportunity to be a real leader, stand up to Trump and his platform of hate and division and stand up for our community, a community that does not share Donald Trump’s values or Mr. Costello’s enthusiasm for Donald Trump. If I sold out our community the way Ryan Costello has, I would want to change the subject too.”

While the issue of the disclosure filing can be debated for its validity — Parrish campaign sources said that the Federal Election Commission was not fining the campaign, typically a $200 fine, because of apparent confusion by the Clerk of Congress’ office — the underlying financial situation for the Parrish campaign is pretty weak.

The campaign has raised a total of $208,000 — not counting $6,000 in loans Parrish made to his campaign — and has spent $171,699.39, with $44,731.73 in  cash on hand. The big concern, though, is that the campaign acknowledged $112,608.99 in debt in its most recent campaign finance filing, primarily to a Philadelphia law firm and three current and former campaign consultants.

In comparison, Costello has raised nearly $2 million in the cycle and currently has about $1.4 million in cash on hand.

Parrish campaign sources say that fundraising has improved in July — but acknowledged that they will continue to lag well behind the Republican incumbent.

Still, a bit of perspective: in the neighboring 7th Congressional district, U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan has raised more than $3 million and currently has nearly $2.4 million in cash on hand. his Democratic challenger, Mary Ellen Balchunis has raised a little less than $100,000 for the entire cycle and had $23,101.34 in cash on hand at the time of the June 30 filing.

On the flip side, taking a look at the finances in the 16th — where two folks seek to replace the retiring U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts — much of Galko’s arguments and then some can be applied to his fellow Republican, Lloyd Smucker. Smucker, currently a state senator, has raised $463,651.84 in this campaign cycle and spent $714,775.56. With cash on hand of $203,085.06 — the Smucker campaign lists its current debt as being $662,741.54.

Interestingly, Smucker’s opponent, Democrat Christina Hartman is in much better shape financially.

Hartman trails in overall fundraising by a small margin — she’s pulled in $348,675.20 this cycle. The big difference: She has $205,611.77 in cash on hand and only $68,183.25 in campaign debt. As both internal and external polling now show this race to be close, it’s clear that Smucker hasn’t gotten a lot of bang for his buck.

Two obvious concerns, of course. First, should someone get elected to Congress with a lot of debt, might it make them even more susceptible to either special interests or party leadership to get help to retire the debt? Second, did Costello’s campaign inadvertently give Hartman and the Democrats ammunition in the neighboring 16th by pointing out Parrish’s more modest financial issues, leading to a closer look at Smuckers’ finances?

Time will tell, but it will be interesting to watch.

* * *

OK, let’s be honest: there are A-Holes in politics. I’ve known a lot of them in both parties and some worse than others (it is taking no small amount of restraint not to call a couple out by name). By the way, the same is true of the media (I’m undoubtedly on a lot of other people’s lists myself), and every other profession.

But I have to say this: Katie McGinty was both out of bounds and politically foolish (hardly a first in her case) for calling U.S. Senator Pat Toomey an A-Hole during a DNC event his week in Philly.

I agree with Toomey on almost nothing — but he’s not a bad guy. Unlike a lot of politicians in both parties, he comes off as legitimately trying to make things better. Granted, he possesses a very conservative vision of how to do so, but I generally think his heart is in the right place. He’s also a bright guy who knows his policy chops and can reasonably make a case for his positions.

You certainly don’t have to agree with him — much less vote for him — but he and his office deserve respect and it makes you wonder whether McGinty has the judgment and the respect for the U.S. Senate to be elected to join that august body.

* * *

The blacklist of legitimate media by the Trump Campaign is a growing concern and it appears that the Republican National Committee is either afraid or unwilling to push back against it. It is an issue we are watching very closely.

The irony of it is that recent studies show Trump has gotten far more favorable coverage in the supposed “liberal” media (which is a myth, as the media is owned largely by conservative-owned, large corporations), and yet even the minimum critical coverage Trump has received has caused him to bar media outlets such as The Washington Post from his events.

In short, such behavior is unacceptable.

One suggestion from a reader, in part prompted by Chester County’s unique position as a swing county in a swing state: a moratorium on coverage of all Republican candidates until Trump ends his blacklist.

It is an extreme step — and one I’m not comfortable with, to be honest, as it goes against my sense of fair play. Obviously, I’d love to hear your take.

As someone who has run for office — and was arguably libeled by one local publication — I certainly understand frustration with media coverage. Shutting people out, harassing and intimidating the media is not the answer. I’m not sure what the solution is, but your input as readers will be appreciated.

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