Start of something big? Progressive turn in Philly vote, yo

     Supporters of Democratic primary winner Larry Krasner react to the news of his winning at Krasner’s campaign party Tuesday night. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Supporters of Democratic primary winner Larry Krasner react to the news of his winning at Krasner’s campaign party Tuesday night. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Has the post-Trump progressive lion finally roared?

    A robust Democratic turnout gave progressive candidate Larry Krasner a big win in the primary for Philadelphia district attorney, and political newcomer Rebecca Rhynhart shocked the party establishment by unseating a three-term incumbent for city controller.

    Every race has its own dynamics, and we shouldn’t underestimate the benefit of a $1.45 million gift from the heavens to Krasner, an independent expenditure campaign funded by liberal billionaire George Soros.

    But taken with the result in the city controller’s race, where Rhynhart beat Alan Butkovitz handily despite his near unanimous support of the Democratic establishment, it was a great day for Philadelphia progressives in the party.

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    U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, chairman of Philadelphia’s Democratic City Committee, told me last night he thought the party’s ward leaders stuck by Butkovitz, and just got beat.

    “There was a much higher turnout in the liberal wards than the traditional wards, and she won,” Brady said.

    It will be interesting to see whether younger voters played a bigger role in this election, but my rough calculation is that the Democratic turnout in the DA’s race was over 19 percent, well above the 12 percent turnout eight years ago, the last time the office was an open seat.

    It was an interesting end to a very odd campaign.

    How did we get here?

    It was a campaign in which none of the seven contenders was well-known to voters, and most were first-time candidates. Michael Untermeyer had run three times in the previous decade for three different offices. Teresa Carr Deni was the only other one to run for anything, and that was for municipal judge.

    But most had some claim to a significant chunk of voters.

    Joe Khan started early, proved an effective fundraiser, and got Ed Rendell’s backing.

    Untermeyer had personal wealth, and commitment to use it. He would eventually put $1.25 million of his own money into his campaign.

    Rich Negrin brought experience and contacts from city government, and he won the Inquirer’s endorsement.

    Krasner started with a solid base among progressive Democrats, and broadened his support after he was blessed with that massive independent expenditure campaign by Soros.

    Tariq El-Shabazz ran an under-funded campaign, but had some support among Democratic ward leaders, and carried the advantage of being the only African-American in the contest.

    Jack O’Neill started late but got heavy backing from the electricians’ union and other building trades, including help from a super PAC totaling just shy of a quarter-million dollars.

    Only Carr Deni’s campaign seemed to sputter and never get un-tracked.

    Key moments

    It seems to me there were three key turning points in the race.

    One was incumbent Seth Williams’ withdrawal from the contest on Feb. 10, a month ahead of his indictment on corruption charges. It levelled the playing field in terms of name recognition and changed everyone’s political calculus.

    A second came on April 25, when news of a massive TV ad buy confirmed Soros’ intention to drop a bundle to help Krasner, suddenly making him a top-tier candidate in the eyes of potential donors and other politicians.

    The third was on May 2, two weeks before election day, when several prominent African-American leaders from Northwest Philadelphia endorsed Krasner, giving him an edge in two of the best-performing wards in the city and a new level of credibility among black voters.

    Pros will tell you the key to winning elections in this town, and probably most places, is building coalitions, and Krasner’s connection with those leaders was large.

    At time same time, you wonder if those same leaders would have gone his way if he didn’t have a progressive sugar daddy flooding airwaves and mailboxes with pro-Larry messages.

    The question now is what he’ll do with the opportunity he’s won.

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