Chester County Democratic Party candidates for elective office at the county and local level won.
Read that again.
Chester County Democratic Party candidates for elective office at the county and local level won, in results that could only be described as historic. Candidates swept the races for countywide row office positions, besting their Republican opponents — most of whom had the benefit of incumbency behind them — by an average of 7.5 percentage points. No row office election had ever been won by a Democrat in the county’s 335-year history.
Meanwhile, in local races for township office and district judge, the type of community seats that have been the exclusive terrain of the tradition-bound county Republican Party, Democrats were elected to seats that had almost never been in play before. In municipalities like West Goshen, Uwchaln, and West Whiteland, Democratic candidates scored historic wins. In West Goshen, the second largest township in the county, Democrats all of a sudden held a majority of votes on the Board of Supervisors.
The county was following a trend that was seen across the nation in places like Virginia and, later, Alabama: anyone who could possibly be aligned with the current president had a candidacy in doubt, and Democrats found new enthusiasm and organization to capitalize on Donald Trump’s unpopularity.
“Donald Trump was on the ballot,” said Brian McGinnis, chairman of the county’s Democratic Committee after the dust settled on Election Night. “Whether or not his name was there, he was on the ballot. We wanted to defeat Donald Trump’s agenda in Chester County, and we did that. It’s an unbelievable feeling to be a Democrat in Chester County and be part of history.”
Democrats won all four row office positions on the ballot, giving them the seats in the county courthouse and administrative offices they had long sought. By winning races for county clerk of courts, controller, coroner and treasurer, the party finally got a “seat at the table,” as one of the candidates had described her quest.
But equally as impressive were the gains Democrats made in individual municipal elections, the areas where the rubber meets the road in local government, said Democratic Commissioner Kathi Cozzone, until now the party’s only elected official at the county level.
“The Democrats came out and voted,” Cozzone said. “People are angry, not just about Donald Trump but also at Congress and the state (legislature). This is a message. Democrats wanted their voices heard.”
“This wasn’t just a spasmodic reaction,” said Jamie McVickar, a Democratic committee person in West Vincent, where a party candidate won a head-to-head match for supervisor for the first time in years. “This is the result of months and months of hard work and Democrats running for office in places where Democratic candidates had never run, all with a belief that we could make an impact.”
The election was also a watershed moment for the county’s Republican Committee, which had seen state and national Democratic candidates outpoll the GOP in recent years but had always been able to proclaim itself the last suburban Philadelphia county where Democrats had not made inroads at the top. Now, there are nearly equal party seats from both aisles in the county’s row offices, and several longtime Republican incumbents were cast out at the municipal level.
“The easy answer is the Trump wave, the anti-Trump wave,” said another Republican, who spoke with anonymity so as to directly confront the reasons behind the Democrats’ startling success. “Feelings are still very strong in southeastern Pennsylvania. The wave hit Bucks County, and Delaware County, and now the wave has come to Chester County, with a significant impact.”
The officials said that county Democrats seemed highly energized in the election. Trump’s victory, he said, “brought new individuals and new energy to them this year. There was shock, and now they are getting more active. There was a surge of Democratic activity I hadn’t seen before.”
At the local level, Democrats won school board races in Downingtown, Avon Grove, Tredyffrin-Easttown, Great Valley, Kennett and Phoenixville. They won mayoral elections in West Chester (the county seat where the party’s candidate, Dianne Herrin, won 72 percent of the vote), Downingtown, Parkesburg, Oxford, and Phoenixville. They won supervisor races against longtime incumbents in townships like Uwchlan, West Goshen, and West Whiteland, and took never-before-held seats in Upper Uwchlan, East Goshen, East Marlborough and West Marlborough.
The party’s candidates for magisterial district judge also won in West Chester and Kennett Square.
To contact staff writer Michael P. Rellahan call 610-696-1544.