Democrats win big in Philly suburbs — Congress next?

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Delaware County council candidate Kevin Madden (left) was one of two Democrats to win seats on the five-member board, while the bid of Republican candidate Dave White (right) fell short.  (Dave Davies/WHYY)

Delaware County council candidate Kevin Madden (left) was one of two Democrats to win seats on the five-member board, while the bid of Republican candidate Dave White (right) fell short. (Dave Davies/WHYY)

Among the least-noticed and most significant results in Tuesday’s election were the remarkable successes of Democratic candidates in Philadelphia’s suburbs.

Most of us don’t spend time wondering who our county controller is, or what the prothonotary does. (She maintains court records.)

But those county offices are building blocks of political power — there are jobs and contracts to be awarded, after all — and their elections provide a measure of the strength of the parties contending in the races.

Democrats won historically significant row office elections in Chester, Bucks and Delaware counties Tuesday.

In Bucks County, Democratic wins in the races for county sheriff, prothonotary, recorder of deeds and controller were the first in those offices in 30 years.

In Chester County, the party victories in the races for county treasurer, controller, coroner and clerk of courts were the first Democratic row office wins since the county was established in the 1790s.

The Delaware County Democrats’ wins were bigger and probably more historic. They won the first two county council seats ever and elected a Democratic sheriff, controller and register of wills.

And they did so against the legendary Republican organization that has dominated county politics for decades.

“We were up against one of the most powerful political machines in the country,” said county Democratic chairman David Landau. “We hadn’t won any of those elections for 140 years and we had a tidal wave, up and down the ticket.”

Chester County Democratic chairman Brian McGinnis said he had great candidates, but this election was also about using local votes to send a national message.

“People can say what they want, but Donald Trump was on the ballot and his policies were on the ballot,” McGinnis said, “and we made sure that we wanted to make this a statement election.”

Delaware County Republican chairman Andy Reilly said he knew Democrats were making registration gains as the county’s demographics changed, and he acknowledged Trump made a difference.

“They had, you know, an easy motivator in Washington, D.C.,” Reilly said. “They were easily motivated and it didn’t cost them much to motivate that base.”

Landau agrees President Trump boosted turnout, but he said his candidates were campaigning on the need for more transparency in county government and an end to what he says is a pay-to-play culture among Republican elected officials in the county.

“I don’t think that just being against Trump is enough,” Landau said. “Candidates matter and a message matters … Ours resonated with voters. After last fall, Democrats know that their vote matters now, and they had to get out and vote.”

What’s next?

Delaware County Democrats think they can topple Republicans from county government in two years when the other three seats on the county council come up for election.

More immediately, congressional elections are next year, and Democrats think Tuesday’s results show they have a shot at rousting U.S. Reps. Pat Meehan, Ryan Costello and Brian Fitzpatrick from their suburban seats.

Evan Lukaske, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, was dialing up reporters the morning after the election, positively gleeful about the results.

“It’s clear that our grass-roots base is energized,” Lukaske said. “And we have tremendous candidates here who are going to make all these races really competitive.”

I asked State Republican Chairman Val DiGiorgio about the county results. He knows them pretty well, since he’s also chairman of the Chester County Republican Party.

“I was surprised by the magnitude of [the Democrats’ win],” he said, “but I did have a feeling it could go that way.”

I asked if this was bad news for his congressional candidates. He said he was expecting a tough battle next year anyway.

“But we’re prepared. We’re raising money we need to raise for our candidates,” DiGiorgio said. “Our candidates have shown the ability to vote their districts, which will be important next year.”

One vote they may have to consider soon will be over the president’s tax plan.

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