A surge of volunteers and political newcomers hopes to make Pennsylvania blue again,
One change is the party’s new state chairwoman, Nancy Patton Mills, who was elected in June. On Election Day 2016 she was party chair in Allegheny County, which includes Pittsburgh. Mills said she was surprised and disheartened by the result but was soon invigorated by the opportunity it presented. Two days after the election, Mills spoke to despondent students at Chatham University, a former women’s college whose student body is still 75 percent female, and laid out her theory.
“We’re probably in a better place today in Pennsylvania because of the loss, although the loss was so, so painful,” said Mills. “That night at Chatham University I said Hillary’s loss is the worst thing that has ever happened to the Democratic Party and the best thing that’s ever happened to the Democratic Party, because we now know the work that we have to do.”
The task for Democrats was converting the energy from events like the women’s march and travel ban protests into electoral action, enlisting those who regretted not doing enough in 2016 and putting them to work. Jamie Perrapato, executive director of Turn PA Blue, is focused on electing Democrats to the state legislature, targeting districts in eastern Pennsylvania to close the double-digit seat gaps in both chambers. A big part of her job is getting volunteers who live in safe blue neighborhoods to canvass in the surrounding swing districts. As competitive races mount up, she says, she is running short of funds to campaign in all of them.
“State legislature races do not get the attention that Congress does,” said Perrapato. “We’ve been taking all of these people who are ‘newly woke,’ I guess you could say, and plugging them into state campaigns where the resources are desperately needed. They’re underfunded and they’re underrecognized, and the influx of volunteers makes a huge difference.”
Muth is running for one of the seats targeted by Perrapato’s group, a rookie candidate learning the ropes and dealing with a Democratic establishment that’s attempting to integrate the flood of new interest and ideas into the existing structure. The party establishment is still skeptical of in-person campaigning, she said, noting that her campaign just knocked on its 50,000th door; the leadership in Harrisburg would prefer she come with the news of a $50,000 check. She’s not expecting much help from the party and is instead building alliances with the other candidates in her area, sharing information on voters and donors while coordinating on canvassing efforts. Muth expressed the same sentiment as other new candidates who spoke with Yahoo News: It is extremely difficult to run, particularly if you are not independently wealthy, because the costs are astronomical and the system feels broken. But being a newcomer does have its advantages in winning over Trump voters in her district, even if her politics couldn’t be further from the man whose victory kept her in bed for a day.
“A lot of my volunteers, when it comes up, will text me and say, ‘I just sold my soul to the devil,’” said Muth. She explains: “People will say, ‘I voted for Trump because he isn’t a politician,’ and they’ll say, ‘That’s great! Katie Muth isn’t either.’ Whatever works — we need the damn vote. I don’t want to lie for the vote, but it’s not really a lie because I’m not a politician. It’s just realizing that common connection that people are frustrated with what’s going on.”
And it’s not just the Democratic candidates who are new, but those supporting them and running their campaigns. Sara Innamorato defeated a longtime state representative in a Pittsburgh-area primary in May, one of two Western Pennsylvania women to knock out members of a powerful Democratic family and win nomination to a safe blue seat. Innamorato launched her campaign after what she described as an unexpectedly visceral reaction to the 2016 results and the belief that if the host of “The Apprentice” could be president there was no reason she — a 32-year-old who ran a communications consultancy for nonprofits and government agencies — couldn’t run for state office. Innamorato said many of her volunteers and even some of her paid staff were political novices.
“We ran our race with people who had never really managed or worked on campaigns in a very significant way before,” said Innamorato. “We weren’t raising $100,000 to spend on expensive consultants. I think they would have guided us in a very different direction.”
Democrat Conor Lamb on the night of the March special election when he beat Republican Rep. Rick Saccone. (Photo: Brendan McDermid/Reuters)‘ data-reactid=”65″>
The new map issued by the court turns six Republican-held districts into competitive or Democratic-leaning seats. Lamb is now running in a new district against Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus, a race the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates as Lean Democratic.’ data-reactid=”71″>Lamb’s reelection efforts — and the congressional opportunities for Democrats across Pennsylvania — got a boost via a state Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that threw out the congressional map Republicans drew at the beginning of the decade, locking in a 13-5 GOP advantage in congressional seats in a state whose voters are roughly evenly divided between parties. The new map issued by the court turns six Republican-held districts into competitive or Democratic-leaning seats. Lamb is now running in a new district against Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus, a race the nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates as Lean Democratic.
The ideal situation for Democrats in Pennsylvania and nationwide is that enthusiasm surges up and down the ballot: competitive state House races helping congressional races in the area and both having a potential benefit to the top of the ticket and vice versa. This includes reaching out to segments of the electorate that have either stopped voting for Democrats or stopped voting entirely, including by competing for seats that have gone uncontested in previous elections.
“The way to bring people back is to have a conversation,” said Innamorato, “They want to know that you’re a real authentic person, and you might not agree on every single policy point but they just want to know your character and your core and what moral code you’re going to use when you get into office. I find the only way to express that authentically is not through a commercial on cable news but having a conversation, having a town hall, sitting down and inviting folks to have a cup of coffee with you. That’s very labor intensive, it’s time intensive, but it worked here and we’re seeing across the U.S., we’re seeing with different candidates who were written off by the Democratic National Committee, written off by the state party, and they’re winning.”