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2019 Election Ups & Downs

Democrats dominate in the southeast, Republicans rise in the west, and anti-establishment candidates win seats in Philadelphia and Scranton. All of that and more are in this week’s Ups and Downs. 

Every week PoliticsPA sends an exclusive extra Up or Down to Playbook subscribers. See who gets the extra up or down next week: sign up here.

Dem/GOP Superior Court Race. You win one, you lose one. Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Dan McCaffery, a Democrat, and Chester County prosecutor Megan King, a Republican, will take the two open seats on the state Superior Court. While the ultimate goal for each party was to bring two of their endorsed candidates to the statewide seat with a 10 year term, it’s certainly better than being shut out.

Eastern PA GOP. It’s time to sound the alarms in the Philadelphia suburbs for the Republican Party. While recent trends have indicated that the Democratic Party was gaining ground in the southeast and eastern counties, the 2019 election showed the uphill battle Republicans face moving forward in this region they traditionally dominated. In Delaware County, Democrats wiped out every Republican on the countywide council, giving them a majority for the first time ever. Oh and the Delaware County Democratic candidate for District Attorney, Jack Stollsteimer, also edged out incumbent Republican DA Katayoun Copeland, giving the Democrats control of the DA’s office for the first time ever as well. In Chester County, which was the lone county in the state that flipped from supporting Gov. Mitt Romney in 2012 to Sec. Hillary Clinton in 2016, Democrats also made history by electing a Democrat DA for the time first ever, plus taking the majority on the commissioner board. Bucks County, which is the home to the lone GOP Congressman in the region, also saw the Democrats take the majority on the commissioner board for the first time in decades. The success also creeped into the Lehigh Valley and sections of Northeast PA with Democrats wiping out every Republican on the four at-large county commissioner seats, plus taking the majority on the commissioner board in Monroe County. 

SWPA Dems. As Democrats dominate in the east, Republicans rise in the west. Armstrong, Greene, Washington, and Westmoreland, which have steadily trended red, all voted to give the Republican Party the majority in their county commissioner races. In Greene County, in which Democrats have dominated countywide seats for decades, also voted for a Republican District Attorney. While the gains are significant for the local Republican parties, this wasn’t the first election to show a shift in party loyalty. In the 2016 presidential election, all four of these counties voted for President Donald Trump over Sec. Hillary Clinton by wide margins, the largest being Armstrong County giving 73% of their vote to Trump and the smallest being Washington County where Trump received 60% of the vote. At the end of the 2019 election, the GOP flipped 6 county government control, while the Democrats flipped 5 (although the Democratic counties flipped have a higher population.) 

Marsy’s Law. While the fate of Marsy’s Law will play out in the courts, Pennsylvanians largely showed support for the proposed victims right amendment by overwhelmingly voting for it by a 3-1 margin. Despite this vote total, which Marsy’s Law supporters are touting as a victory, the Pennsylvania courts will determine whether or not it will be added to the state’s constitution. 

Scranton Democratic Party Establishment. Democrats have long dominated the political scene in Scranton. Although their new mayor worked under President Barack Obama and Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, she successfully ran an Independent campaign for Mayor by running against the establishment, or as her campaign called it “Paige Against the Machine.” Cognetti was the victor in the seven candidate field and is also the first woman ever elected to lead Scranton. 

Helen Gym. Gym all-but-notched her victory to another term on Philadelphia City Council in May’s primary, receiving the highest vote total of any candidate seeking an at-large seat, but she was able to duplicate those results in November, while picking a fight with the party establishment. Gym was once again the highest vote getter for city council, but also saw her endorsement of Working Party Families candidate Kendra Brooks, against the wishes of Philadelphia Democratic Party Chairman Bob Brady, pay off. Brooks will now work alongside Gym as the first third party candidate to win an at-large seat on the city’s council.  

Philly GOP. The party is in trouble beyond the general political trend described above. The Philadelphia Republican Party didn’t expect mayoral candidate Billy Ciancaglini to beat incumbent Mayor Jim Kenney, but losing a seat on city council, which they are already significantly outnumbered, is cause for concern for the future of the local party. For decades, Republicans have held the two designated minority party seats on city council, but with Brooks taking one of the two spots, that leaves only Councilman David Oh as the lone GOP councilman at-large in Philly. In the upcoming session, there will only be two Republicans, Councilman David Oh and Brian O’Neill, on the 17 member council. Philly Clout also reports that the Philadelphia Republican Party will be meeting on Tuesday to discuss the future of the party, which could include changing of the guard of Chair with calls for Mike Meehan to resign grow. 

Luzerne County GOP. This traditionally Democratic county was instrumental in helping Donald Trump win the state of Pennsylvania, and appears that it’s going to continue trending toward the GOP. Luzerne County was one of the six counties that flipped control to Republicans in Tuesday’s election, but in addition to that victory, they also gained a majority on the 11-member county council by flipping two seats, giving them a 6-5 majority. 

Stephen Zappala. Zappala’s reelection bid caught the attention of political observers across the state with his first legitimate challenge in decades, but the longtime Democratic incumbent was awarded a sixth term. Zappala bested Independent progressive challenger Lisa Middleman by 15 points. While three Allegheny Democratic Party backed incumbents lost seats in the May primary to progressive challengers, it sent a warning to the establishment, but that momentum did not carry over to unseat Zappala. 

Kendra Brooks. Brooks was the biggest winner in the city of Philadelphia by earning a spot on city council, becoming the first third party candidate to hold an at-large seat. She told supporters after declaring her victory that her win “broke the GOP” and that they “beat the Democratic establishment,” according to the Philadelphia Inquirer


Billy Penn’s Max Marin paid homage to this classic tweet from Mayor Jim Kenney in 2014 on Election Day 2019. 

Bonus tweet goes to Coleman Lamb, campaign manager and brother of Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Allegheny), for his suggestion to characterize the divide between the southeast to the southwest. 

3 Responses

  1. Zappala with an up arrow is like a drunk with his zipper down…they both get snickers. Zappala with both nominations beat a independent who only campaigned for 3 months and she BEAT him in Pgh. Lisa Middleman got swamped in the suburbs by Republican straight voters who would vote for Satan if he was on their ballot. The real story is…Zappala can’t win again for anything and there is nothing daddy, Chuckie Porter jr. or the kin of mob boss John Bazzano can do about it.

  2. So I count Greene, Westmoreland, Armstrong, Washington and Luzerne as five counties that swung to the GOP in the commissioners races, which county was the 6th one to flip?

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