The numbers don’t lie: Donald Trump killed the GOP in SE Pennsylvania

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

In reviewing the final results of the 2019 elections in Chester County — and by the way, whomever decided to change up the format to make them almost impossible to work with on the Web, please find another line of work – I feel a little bit like one of the structural engineers on the Titanic seeing how my own preeelction projections played out.

Clearly, my math was wrong.

I vastly underfactored the cancer that is President Donald Trump to Republicans in southeast Pennsylvania. Make no mistake, while these counties were always going to turn Democrat — in a decade or so due to changing demographics — Trump made it happen virtually overnight.

In retrospect, the biggest single mistake was working with pre-Donald Trump numbers (I actually underestimated how poisonous Trump would turn out to be for the GOP), looking at numbers from 2003 through 2018 to help build out my vote projection modeling.

Put simply, in a world where Donald Trump is president, the old models no longer apply (what that will mean in 2021, should Trump lose reelection or removed from office, is even harder to divine).

I projected a healthy growth in turnout based on trend lines: just 26.76% of registered voters in 2015 spiking to 31.78% in 2017, when Democrats won their first, historic elections — the first of the Trump era.

Looking at those numbers, I felt like turnout would be somewhere around 34%, a linear growth from 2017, factoring in better get out the vote efforts by both parties, as polarization continues to drive voter opinions. I did think two issues, a “Trump fatigue” and some minor infighting within the Democratic Party would be limiting factors on turnout. I also felt like the dyed-in-the-wool Republican voters would turnout in droves, wanting to make a statement about the ongoing impeachment process.

I had Republicans getting somewhere between 61,000 and 64,000 votes, while I saw Democrats ranging from 59,000 to 62,000, a close race but one that leaned Republican.

Nope, instead we saw an electoral iceberg, with the SS Republican going down hard on election day.

While my Republican numbers were in the ballpark — they boosted turnout strongly over 2017 — I completely misread Democratic voters. They blew through my numbers, pushing most county-wide winning numbers to nearly 70,000 votes (that’s almost twice what would have won races in 2015, by the way).

Looking at turnout in Chester County as well as the “collar” counties, Bucks, Delaware, Bucks and Montgomery, it wasn’t just a Chester County thing.

Despite varying qualities of GOTV programs in the suburban Philly counties, the numbers were through the roof: high Democratic turnout combined with a subset of Republicans voting to send their party a message and a large majority of independents voting for Democrats exploded the turnout numbers in favor of Democrats.

This turnout tells us a lot about the 2020 elections — in short, they will be a disaster for Republicans if Trump is on the ballot.

There are other consequences, of course. With the loss, the county GOP is effectively entirely out of power. Money, which had already been a challenge, will be even tighter, while Democrats will see more resources than ever.

It seems deeply unlikely that the county’s sole Congressional seat, held by Democrat Chrissy Houlahan, will be remotely competitive. And Trump, who lost to Hillary Clinton by 9.5% in 2016, could lose by even more, upwards of 15% if Democrats nominate a moderate candidate (I suspect Trump will fare better against Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders, but still lose in Chester County). Chesco isn’t a lock for Democrats, yet, keep in mind, despite Trump faring poorly in Chester County in 2016, other Republicans actually did quite well, so it is likely there is still some base of GOP support in the county, even if it eroded in 2018 somewhat.

Fiscal resources will be a challenge for GOP state legislative races and the top of the ticket will be a drag. In short, that means the state Senate race in the 9th District, with Sen. Tom Killian-R seeking reelection, is likely to be a Democrat blowout, assuming a decent candidate. This will likely hold true across the southeast and be enough to swap statewide legislative control to the Democrats.

I think the same holds true for at least two of the last three state house seats held by Republicans — the 160th and the 26th. Both are held by long-time State Reps. (Steve Barrar and Tim Hennessey) who seem deeply likely to be defeated if they do not choose to retire (spoiler alert: I expect both to do so). I think that John Lawrence-R in the 13th has a chance to hold on, but is not an overwhelming favorite to do so.

Running the numbers, it seems likely that turnout will be at or above 80% in 2020. The higher the turnout, typically, the better for Democratic candidates, so all of the Republican state house candidates have to be nervous.

All that having been said (and noting how far off my numbers were this year), it’s impossible to really say what’s going to happen nearly a year from now, as the impeachment scandal continues to unfold — and if Trump resigns or is removed from office, everything could change overnight.

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