Delaware County Political History
For years, Delaware County, Pennsylvania had an almighty, well organized Republican machine that controlled the local government and its politics. Party bosses and the "War Board," the county Republican Party's executive committee, ran everything in Delaware County. Even in the county's historically black areas, like Chester, Republicans controlled many local offices. Current Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Chester) served as Chester's mayor between 1999 and 2002 and Chester even had a Republican mayor until 2012.
Delaware County has always had its share of moneyed areas, like Radnor, Nether Providence, Upper Providence, Newtown, Edgworth, and Haverford Townships. DelCo also has historically been largely inhabited by blue collar, working class, Catholic residents. Interestingly enough, the GOP traditionally did fairly well even amongst union members in DelCo by running moderate to full out pro-union candidates. Starting in the 1960s and lasting through the early 1990s, Upper Darby Township also had a large Greek population, containing many hard working Greek immigrants.
The wealthy and working class areas of Delaware County both delivered strong margins to Republicans during the 1970s and 1980s. In fact, DelCo voted 6.7 points to the right of the national average in 1988.
1988 was the last time DelCo would, and likely ever will, vote Republican for the Presidency again. Dramatic demographic shifts in eastern Delaware County, largely caused by the aging, ethnic, blue collar residents of DelCo's eastern boroughs and townships dying or moving out farther into the suburbs, turned many historically white areas into majority or plurality black areas. Even historically black areas, like the City of Chester, became more black in the 1990s and 2000s. Additionally, the county's portion of the Main Line, along with the district's fairly Jewish, wealthy areas in the district like Nether Providence and Upper Providence Townships and Rose Valley, trended away from Republicans as the national Republican Party became more focused on social conservatism. To make matters worse, Republicans no longer got the margins they used to out of middle income suburban areas like Marple and Springfield Townships.
The result of these trends have been devastating for Delaware County Republicans. The county went from R+6.7 to the national average in 1988 to D+5.7 to the national average in 2000 and D+8.8 to the national average in 2012.
Below is a spreadsheet that shows how each borough and township in DelCo voted in 2000, 2004, and 2012 (official 2008 data was not published online).
As you can see, Republicans have somewhat rebounded, or have held steady, in both the middle class/suburban and the middle or working class, white boroughs and townships in the county since 2000. However, Yeadon, Folcroft, the City of Chester, Upper Darby, Aldan, Chester Township, Collingdale, the Borough of Darby, Brookhaven, Lansdowne, East Lansdowne, Millbourne, Colwyn, Sharon Hill, and Upland, all of which are in eastern Delaware County, have all gained lots of new, black spillover population from West, South, and Southwest Philadelphia. Each one of these townships, boroughs, or cities has trended between 7.48 and 23.11% Democratic in terms of its two-way vote share for George W. Bush and its two-way vote share for Mitt Romney between 2000 and 2012. The death of white, blue collar, generally Catholic voters in these areas has caused a rapid Democratic trend, dragging the county with it.
Luckily for the GOP, it seems that the wealthy areas of DelCo stopped trending leftward, with Radnor Township shifting around 7 points to the right in 2012 from 2008 and Newtown Township trending about 3 points to the right from 2008 (2008 data not included in my spreadsheet). Still, the frightening trends in the eastern portion of the county caused the district to shift leftward in each election between 2000 and 2012.
Republicans still hold every countywide office in Delaware County and unanimously control the Delaware County Board of Commissioners. Thanks to the county party's and its satellite branches in most townships/boroughs being highly organized, Republicans still control voter registration countywide by about 1,400 voters out of 397,000 voters countywide. However, with demographics in the county becoming tougher every election cycle for the GOP, keeping control of the county will be difficult in both the short run and the long run.
2012 Election Background and 7th District History
Pennsylvania's Delaware County-dominated 7th district--and Delaware County in general--had been a Republican bastion for decades. Other than Democrat Bob Edgar held the district between 1975 and 1987, when Marcus Hook Mayor Curt Weldon defeated him, Republicans traditionally held the district. Edgar won a district containing much of Delaware County, including Chester, that excluded some of its most Republican outer edges.
After the 1982 redistricting, Edgar inherited a district containing much of of Delaware County along with all of heavily black Southwest Philadelphia. Weldon won the 7th district back for the GOP in 1986-a testament to how Republican much of DelCo once was considering he won a district containing much of Southwest Philadelphia-when Congressman Edgar unsuccessfully challenged the late Senator "Snarlin' Arlen" Specter in Specter's first reelection bid. The 7th district stayed in his hands for over two decades.
Below is a map of the 1970s version of the 7th district.
Below is a map of the 1980s version of the 7th district.
Pennsylvania's Delaware County-based 7th Congressional district was vacated in 2010 by two term Rep Joe Sestak (D-Edgmont Township) when he unsuccessfully ran for Senate against now-Senator Pat Toomey. The 2002-2012 7th district was DelCo centric, but it contained smaller, but significant, portions of western central Montgomery County along the Schuylkill River. It also contained conservative exurban parts of Chester County along the Main Line and in the West Chester area. The 7th district trended left between 2000, 2004, and 2008, and it voted even voted ~D+3 to the national average in 2008. The 7th district should never have been won by Democrats between 2002 and 2012, but the combination of demographic trends, the worst year for Pennsylvania Republicans in a century, and ethical questions that ended up being false sunk Curt Weldon in a late breaking 2006 defeat to Navy Admiral Joe Sestak. Democrats had viewed the Democratic trending 7th district, along with Southeastern Pennsylvania's 6th, 8th, and 15th districts, as top tier targets throughout the 2000s, and managed to win the 7th and the 8th in 2006.
The 2010 race to replace Sestak was supposed to be competitive, and both sides sent out their best men to fight for the seat.
Republicans nominated US Attorney and former DelCo District Attorney Pat Meehan to run in the November general election. Meehan, of Drexel Hill and originally of Cheltenham, had the perfect demeanor and résumé for the district. DelCo likes its politicians to be straight talking, hard working, tough on crime, and slightly blue collar in personality. Meehan, as a former prosecutor and National Hockey League referee, fit the bill. Emblematic of his low key personality, Meehan also has lived in a middle class section of Drexel Hill, in largely working class Upper Darby Township, for 20 years even though he can clearly afford to live on the Main Line. Meehan also ran as moderately friendly to labor which, in conjunction to his earnest, personality, made him an even better fit for working class areas of Delaware County.
Additionally, Meehan's impressive work as a US Attorney and his status as a Bowdoin educated, eloquent attorney also helped him connect with voters in the more white collar, well educated portions of the district along the Main Line in Delaware, Montgomery (part of Wayne is in Upper Merion Township), and Chester Counties.
Meanwhile, Democrats decided to nominate Bryan Lentz, a State Representative from Swarthmore. Lentz's district snaked all the way from Radnor to Brookhaven, containing wealthy, white-collar middle class, and working class parts of Delaware County, giving him a foothold in each of the 7th district's communities of interests of sorts.
Both candidates campaigned hard and fundraised well, and the race was rated as competitive for most of the campaign but it clearly broke towards Meehan in the latter period of the race. Lentz helped a fake Tea Party candidate get onto the ballot in order to try to undermine Meehan's support from the right, but his attempts to keep his role in that conspiracy secret failed and it damaged his image amongst voters of the district. Meehan also won the Philadelphia Inquirer's endorsement and went on to demolish Lentz with 56% of the vote... in a district John McCain only received 43% of the vote in two years earlier. Meehan put up huge margins in eastern Delaware County, and ran well district wide.
Redistricting and the 7th district
The decennial redistricting process--controlled completely by Republicans in the legislature--brought huge, wonderful changes to the 7th district. Areas that had trended left hard over the past decade in eastern Delaware County, along with white, affluent, and highly liberal areas like Nether Providence Township and Swarthmore, were removed and most of the 7th district's slices of Chester and Montgomery Counties were removed. These areas were replaced with heavily Republican slices of Berks and Lancaster Counties, a white collar, generally upper middle-income section of central Montgomery County (in which every precinct was clearly hand picked by whomever drew the map), and a conservative slice of exurban Chester County that was bound to like Meehan. The old district voted 56% for President Obama in 2008 and the new district voted 51% for President Obama: a dramatic shift. All in all, while the district still remained ~55% Delaware County by vote share, the moderately, but generally durably, Republican learn of the new 7th district was largely due to the new areas of the district.
Below is a map showing the old and new 7th districts.
Pat Meehan's Freshman Term
In typical fashion, Pat Meehan's first term was defined by both hard work and keeping a low profile.
In the 112th Congress, Meehan sat on the Committee on Homeland Security, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and the United States House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
His status as a former US Attorney famous for fighting corruption helped him earn a spot as the Chairman on the Homeland Security Committee's Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, where he developed a reputation as one of the House Republican Caucus' point men on intelligence and combatting terrorism.
Meehan's district is generally fiscally moderately conservative, but its slice of DelCo--outside of its wealthy area--is fairly unionized and somewhat fiscally populist. Meehan's vote ratings from various interest groups was fairly typical for most Delaware County Republicans.
To see Meehan's interest group ratings from a large array of interest groups, check this link: http://votesmart.org/candidate...
Meehan received lukewarm ratings from labor groups, but his ratings were strong for a Republican. His ratings from fiscal conservative groups were also middling, but his votes fit his old (and new) district like a glove. He received a perfect rating from the National Right to Life and an A from the NRA, making him, yet again, a great for culturally conservative eastern DelCo and the rural portions of his district. Meehan, however, did campaigned on neither guns nor abortion restrictions, making the white collar, decidedly more socially liberal and fiscally conservative portions of the 7th district happy with him.
Meehan's defining moment in his first term, however, was not his strong committee work or his solid constituent services; Meehan's best moment in his first term was when he worked together with 1st district Democratic Congressman Bob Brady (D-Overbrook) to save the Sunoco-owned refineries in South Philadelphia, in the 1st district, and in Marcus Hook, along the Delaware River in the southwestern-most corner of 7th district's portion of Delaware County. The oil refinery in Trainer was also in danger. Sunoco decided it was going to shut down the refineries unless it found new owners for them. Meehan and Brady held official hearings in Delaware County and relentlessly met with local businessmen and local unions in an attempt to find a new owner for the refineries. In the end, the pair of Congressmen found owners for the Trainer and Philadelphia refineries, saving thousands of Delaware County jobs. Meehan's dogged persistance helped save the livelihood of thousands of his constituents, and he would be handsomely rewarded come election night, 2012.
To learn more about Meehan and Brady's efforts, read this link (seriously, I highly recommend you do, it'll give you a better understanding of both DelCo and Meehan.):
The 2012 7th District Election
Thanks to the 7th district's new configuration, Pat Meehan's blowout victory in 2012, and the moderately conservative, bipartisan, and cooperative reputation he garnered in his first term in the House, Meehan no longer was a top tier target for national Democrats. State Representative Greg Vitali (D-Haverford Township) declined to run, as did Lentz, so Democrats went with wealthy, well connected trial lawyer George Badey. Badey, the chairman of the Radnor Township Democrats, had never run for office before and had fundraising issues early on. Badey had some campaign infrastructure but Pennsylvania politicos knew he had no chance of defeating Meehan, save for a scandal. Badey ran a classic "Mediscare" campaign and declared Meehan anti-woman, two clearly desperate tactics.
Meehan fundraised well and campaigned hard, crisscrossing his largely new district. His hard work in Congress and in the district paid off, and his endorsements showed it. Meehan was endorsed by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Delaware County Daily Times, and by a few important local unions, including the Philadelphia Council of Building and Construction Trades, the NEA and the PSEA, and an aerospace workers' union. His work saving the Trainer refinery paid well in terms of labor endorsements.
President Obama, not exactly a wonderful fit for neither the blue collar areas in the district or its upper middle class or moneyed suburbs, tanked nearly districtwide. However, he improved his standing in many of the portions of eastern Delaware County that were not carved out in redistricting. Obama tanked in the 7th district's portion of Chester and Berks Counties, falling six and seven points there, respectively, from his 2008 portion. He also fell four points in slice of Lancaster and Berks Counties. Obama only fell two points in the 7th district's Delaware County portion. All in all, Obama got 49% of the district's two way vote share, down from the 52% of its two way vote share he received in 2012. Compared to the national average, the district shifted a point rightwards, voting R+3 to the national average.
Here's a chart showing how the 7th district slice of each of the five counties in the district voted in 2012 for President.
Below is a map that shows how the 7th district voted in the 2012 presidential election in each township, borough, and city.
Navy: 63+% Obama
Blue: 57-63% Obama
Dodger blue: 52-57% Obama
Sky blue: 50-52% Obama
Salmon: 50-52% Romney
Red: 52-57% Romney
Crimson: 57-63% Romney
Reddish Brown: 63+% Romney
Meanwhile, Pat Meehan won the 7th district with 59.4% of the vote districtwide. Meehan ran around 8.3% ahead of Romney, districtwide.
Below is a map that shows Pat Meehan's performance in the 2012 general election by township, borough, and city.
Navy: 63+% Badey
Blue: 58-63% Badey
Dodger blue: 53-58 Badey
Sky blue: 50-53% Badey
Salmon: 50-53% Meehan
Red: 53-58% Meehan
Crimson: 58-63% Romney
Reddish Brown: 63+% Romney
Pat Meehan ran ahead of Mitt Romney in all but one of the district's municipalities (Springfield Township, Montgomery County).
Below is a map that shows how far Pat Meehan ran ahead of Mitt Romney in each borough, township, and city in the 7th district.
Blue: Behind Romney by up to .1 points
Dodger blue: Ahead of Romney by 0-4 points
Sky blue: Ahead of Romney by 4-8.3 points
Salmon: Ahead of Romney by 8.3-12 points
Red: Ahead of Romney by 12-15 points
Reddish Brown: Ahead of Romney by 15-20 points
Here's the same map, just zoomed in on Delaware County.
For a spreadsheet with my 7th district election data by borough, township, and city, look here:
Conclusion and Pat Meehan's Future
The future holds wonderful things for Pat Meehan. Meehan's amazing performance districtwide, running 8.3% ahead of Mitt Romney, shows just how strong of a candidate he is. The fact that he ran ahead of Romney virtually everywhere, and even ran a good 3-6 points ahead of Romney in most of the new parts of the district, was excellent news on election night.
The biggest takeaway of the 2012 election in the 7th district was just how far Meehan ran ahead of Mitt Romney in the blue collar parts of Delaware County in the district. His union endorsements and his actions to save the Trainer refinery clearly paid off, as he ran between an astonishing 14-20 points ahead Mitt Romney in eastern DelCo and along the Delaware River. Meehan's persona, his hard work for the district, and his policy advocacies fit DelCo like a glove.
Another piece of good news for the GOP in Southeastern Pennsylvania is how the middle-to-upper middle income slice of middle Montgomery County swung back to the GOP in 2012. Middle and upper MontCo are rebounding some for Republicans and that will be an important trend for the future of the Pennsylvania GOP.
The fact that Chester County's exurban areas also swung hard, and even harder than MontCo's areas back to Romney, after only narrowly voting Republican in 2008 was reassuring. The GOP needs the exurban areas in Southeastern Pennsylvania to be cherry red in order to win Pennsylvania going forward, and the exurbs rebounded nicely for the GOP.
Pat Meehan is 57, but I believe that he'll be our best candidate for governor whenever the seat is next open. Meehan could run in 2018 or in 2022, and could outperform any other Republican who could run statewide by large margins in Delaware County. Meehan's blue collar appeal could also work well in lower Bucks County and in the generally blue collar Southwestern portion of the state. Meehan also ran one of Rick Santorum's campaigns in the 1990s, so he knows statewide politics. His fundraising in 2012 was impressive and his decision to cut a half million dollar ad buy in October was an excellent move, especially seeing as he won in a landslide and performed better than any other Republican in Southeastern Pennsylvania, a region that traditionally features Congressional Republicans who run better than the top of the ticket in Presidential election years.
The 7th district's slice of Delaware County will probably trend left this decade, but the 7th district should still lean Republican by decade's end and I fully expect Republicans to control it. An open seat race later in the decade could prove competitive, but look for Republicans to hold the 7th district throughout the decade and for Pat Meehan to continue having a productive and popular tenure before he wins higher office.