D.C. pols may have big impact on local 2019 election

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

Today at 4 p.m., in Washington, D.C., there will be a meeting that may well decide the fate of the county elections in Chester County — not to mention thousands of similar elections nationwide.

The Democratic House Caucus will meet this afternoon to decide whether of not to move for a formal Impeachment Inquiry of Donald Trump. How that meeting goes will have a giant effect on this year’s election.

Let me explain, as Politics As Unusual — like all great zombies — rises from dead, seeking brains or at least greater wisdom.

So, as usual, I wait about 24 hours after writing a column before publishing it — it gives me time to go over it with some perspective — but today’s news cycle can take a column premise and turn it on its head faster than an Eagles’ fan can trash Nelson Agholor.

I was writing about the local impact of a slow-walk process by Democrats on an Impeachment Inquiry of President Donald Trump — which by last night, and maybe even more so by the time you read this has turned into a sprint.

Whatever happens in DC this week could have a large influence on this fall’s county elections, though.

Take as a given that this year’s Chester County off-year county elections are probably going to be decided by a razor-thin margin. My own modeling, using data going back to 2003 looking at trends, registration, voter performance and such, puts county Democrats at 46 to 51 percent of the vote range (which Republicans are likely to be in the 49 to 54 point range, thus still making them slight favorites, with the mostly likely outcome a narrow 51-49 GOP win on average).

Until this week — and the revelations about Ukraine — I think there was a concern that inaction by Democrats might lead to apathy and lower than hoped voter turnout.

There has been a growing frustration among voters on the left about the U.S. House of Representatives’ willingness to move ahead on an impeachment inquiry – Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi had been throwing up barriers to a formal inquiry, and even our own local Congress member, Chrissy Houlahan, has not supported such an inquiry until finally expressing support for an Impeachment inquiry Monday night in an Op/Ed in The Washington Post.

Again, for those of you keeping score at home, an impeachment inquiry is very much like convening a grand jury — literally the only way to formally determine whether the conduct of the president reaches the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” It is not a vote to impeach and force a trial in the U.S. Senate — such a potential vote would come after the investigation and presumably only after fact-finding shows probable cause for articles of impeachment.

With the latest revelations — Donald Trump is alleged to have pressured the Ukrainian government to conduct an investigation into the son of Democratic rival and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and held up some $400 million in military assistance funding — the heat is rising on Democrats to take real and clear action.

But if Pelosi again demurs on action (which I now doubt), the impact could be felt locally, as Democratic turnout would be likely to be depressed — I’ve already had a few activists suggest not voting might be the best way to send a message to the Democrats’ DC leadership (NOTE: not voting is never a good answer).

Democrats are already notoriously difficult to get to turn out for off-year elections — the 2017 Democratic county sweep was at least in part driven by furious Trump opposition by voters who also wanted to send a message. Now, frustrated, one has to ask whether or not some of those voters might well stay home to send a different message: some Democratic voters are angry at how House Democrats are handling Trump’s various flouting of the law.

With the margins so close, it’s clear anything that hits Democratic turnout by even a couple of points could prove decisive this fall.

Already there are questions about how badly Democrats will be outspent this fall — Republicans seem to have gone to the wall to fundraise and rebuilt what was a tattered county operation. Meanwhile, there’s been some infighting among Democrats on the county level — the old party civil war that dates back to the early aughts roared back to life recently on social media — so you have to wonder whether the party is really ready for this election cycle.

On the flip side, moving forward on an impeachment inquiry should help Democratic voter turnout – but may well turbocharge GOP voter turnout. As seen previously — most notably in 2004 when MoveOn inadvertently juiced Republican turnout while trying to boost Democratic voters — Republican voters when made angry are even more likely to come out and vote. The question will be how many of those voters think Trump might have done something wrong.

In the big picture, moving forward on an impeachment inquiry is the right thing to do morally — and politically. While there may be some local pain this year for Democrats — one last win for Republicans county-wide, maybe, it’s going to be rugged for Republican Senate candidates in 2020 to defend sitting on their hands, especially if even more damning evidence comes out in the coming months.

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