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I'm a Pennsylvania voter and a college student, and this is the second of an ongoing series of articles about Pennsylvania's Congressional districts. For the first installment, an analysis of the 2012 election for Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional district, see here: http://www.redracinghorses.com...
To email me with any questions, email wfdeacons12 @ gmail.com (no spaces)
Bucks County, with its open space preservation laws and its strong schools, has always been an attractive place to raise a family or to retire. New Jersey residents seeking a better tax climate frequently settle in Bucks County. Bucks, along with Chester County, has historically been Southeastern Pennsylvania's exurban "horse country" county. With a median household income of $70,617, Bucks, outside of lower Bucks, is generally affluent and highly educated. Not all of Bucks is thoroughly affluent, with the lower third of the county being characterized by Levittown, America's first massive suburban housing development. Levittown was built to accommodate the population growth of Lower Bucks thanks to its industrial prowess, and its largely working class, lower middle income population is indicative of much of lower Bucks. While Lower Bucks is densely populated, middle and upper Bucks are protected by land usage restrictions and other preservation laws that have come to be very important in county politics. Highly affluent Upper Makefield Township and the outskirts of the Newtown area, in general, resist the kind of development that made Lower Bucks so densely populated.
Bucks, along with the other three suburban counties on the Pennsylvania side of the Delaware Valley, was traditionally a Republican stronghold. While Lower Bucks, dominated by union influence, has traditionally been Democratic, Republicans have always dominated county politics on a local and statewide level. Bucks County voted about four points to the right of the nation in the 1980 and 1984 Presidential elections and about seven points to the right of the nation in the 1988 Presidential election. The right Republicans, ones who could connect with Lower Bucks' working class, heavily Irish Catholic population, could even squeeze out votes from Lower Bucks. Even if a Republican wasn't a great fit for Lower Bucks, middle and upper Bucks provided more than enough votes to give Republicans a strong victory countywide. Middle and Upper Bucks have traditionally had a very Christian population but one with a pacifist streak.
However, Demographic changes that have magnified since the early 1990s have stripped Bucks of its historical position as a Republican stronghold. With minority growth in the borough of Bristol, Bristol Township, and Bensalem Township, Morrisville, and Falls Township, Lower Bucks has become harder for Republicans to win crossover votes in the lower third of the county. Additionally, middle aged Jews who had the money to leave Northeast Philadelphia, or their wealthy college graduate children, largely settled in middle Bucks around the Newtown or Doylestown areas.
These demographic changes, in conjunction to the Republican Party's conservative turn in the 90s, have made Bucks into a highly competitive county on the Presidential level and a good bellwether, within a point or two, of how the country will vote for President. A fiscally conservative Republican who downplays the important of social issues, like Pat Toomey or Mitt Romney, can still perform quite well in Bucks in a federal election. Bucks even voted about a point and a half to the right of the country in 2012 after it voted about half a point to the left of the country in the 2008 Presidential election. Romney even visited Bucks and held a rally with an audience of around ~50,000 people, because he felt he had potential to win it. While Romney only got to 48.8%, he likely would have won it with a better national climate. Regardless, Republicans hold all but one of the countywide offices in Bucks County and dominate local politics in most of its municipalities.
Due to its historically having just under the population necessary for a Congressional district, Bucks has traditionally dominated the 8th Congressional district. People from Bucks County have a strong attachment to it. People from Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties don't tend to identify themselves with their county as strongly as people from Bucks do. Therefore, Bucks has always been kept whole while the other counties in Southeastern Pennsylvania are commonly sliced and diced in Congressional redistricting. Bucks' Congressional district has trende left in recent years, but almost always has elected a Republican to Congress. Congressman Jim Greenwood was extremely popular in Bucks, and won in blowout fashion throughout the 90s and early 2000s. Due to his popularity in Bucks County, Republicans decided to give him a strongly Democratic and heavily minority slice of Montgomery County in the 2001 redistricting plan and also gave him a Democratic leaning and working class slice of Northeast Philadelphia in an attempt to make the once-Republican Montgomery County-based 13th Congressional district winnable once again.
When Jim Greenwood unexpectedly announced his retirement in July of 2004, Bucks County Republicans nominated attorney and County Commissioner Mike Fitzpatrick of Levittown for the 2004 Congressional election. Fitzpatrick was a good fit for Lower Bucks with his Catholic background, his pro-life position on abortion, and his relatively friendliness towards the unions that dominate Lower Bucks. Bucks County Republicans have always been far more organized than Bucks County Democrats, and in the 2004 election, Fitzpatrick won 55-44 against a weak opponent.
2006, however, was a different animal for Fitzpatrick. Young attorney and Army veteran Patrick Murphy Fitzpatrick, who moved to Bristol to run, proved a well-funded and formidable opponent for Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick's 2004 strength was partially based upon his connecting well with lower Bucks and performing fairly strongly in Northeastern Philadelphia but also had to do with his being a Republican in a county with a well-organized Republican machine. Fitzpatrick and Murphy battled vigorously in a negative race, and both were well funded. While Fitzpatrick had slight issues with connecting with middle and upper Bucks, seeing as the largely pro-choice, socially moderate and generally anti-union Republican electorate wasn't his bread and butter constituency, the Philadelphia Inquirer endorsed Fitzpatrick narrowly won Bucks County in November. However, demographic changes in Northeast Philadelphia and the worst year for Republicans in a century in Pennsylvania (and an awful year nationwide) caused Fitzpatrick to lose the blue collar slice of Northeast Philadelphia in his district. Fitzpatrick, of course, lost the heavily Democratic slice of Willow Grove, Montgomery County in his district and the once safe 8th district had booted its Republican incumbent.
Fitzpatrick, supposedly more interested in Bucks County issues than federal issues, decided to run for State Rep in 2008. However, he withdrew his bid after a family member had some serious health issues. Soon thereafter, in June of 2008, Fitzpatrick was diagnosed with colon cancer. After winning his bout with prostate cancer, Fitzpatrick looked for a way to return to public service.
In January of 2010, Fitzpatrick announced that he would run for his old House seat. Fitzpatrick and Murphy were, once again, both well-funded and campaigned hard. However, 2010 was a far different year than 2008 and Fitzpatrick won by 7%, handily carrying Bucks County.
Redistricting and the 2012 Election for PA-08
While the 8th district had given a better showing to George W. Bush in 2004 and John McCain in 2008 than the Republican-held 6th and 7th districts had, the tradition of keeping Bucks County together prevented Republicans from changing its partisan composition too much in redistricting. If Republicans had split much of Lower Bucks off and replaced it with swingy Montgomery County precincts and Republican precincts in Northeast Philadelphia, the district could have been moved ~3 points to the right. However, the district was simply moved one point to the right when it pulled out of Philadelphia and Willow Grove and added about 100,000 upper Montgomery County residents in a heavily Republican slice of the county in the Souderton area.
Because the 8th district was suddenly the most Democratic in the region by Cook Partisan Vote Index, and because Fitzpatrick had lost before, Democrats went after Fitzpatrick hard in 2012. Democrats nominated progressive attorney Kathryn Boockvar (D-Doylestown), a two-time losing candidate (she lost a county-wide race for Register of Wills in 2007 and lost a statewide race for a judgeship on the Commonwealth Court in 2011). Boockvar, a pro-choice activist, was decidedly a bad fit for Lower Bucks Democrats. Fitzpatrick, with his moderately pro-union stance and his pro-life views, wasn't necessarily a great fit for Middle and Upper Bucks but his moderately fiscally conservative views were a decidedly better fit for those parts of Bucks and for upper Montgomery County than the ultra liberal Boockvar was. Fitzpatrick also won endorsements from the National Wildlife Federation and ConservAmerica thanks to his pro-land preservation stances and his work on behalf of the Endangered Species Act. Fitzpatrick was slightly more fiscally conservative in his 2010 term than in his 2006 term, and his ratings from union groups were slightly lower. Fitzpatrick worked hard in his '10 terms to build a strong constituent services operation. Fitzpatrick had frequent meetings with physicians in the district, attended as many business openings as possible, and held many roundtable discussions and town halls around the district. Republicans even went hard after Boockvar for ties to Mumia Abu-Jamal, a convicted cop killer, because of legal work her husband had performed back in the 1990s and early 2000s. Though the DCCC claimed that the Republicans' antics were a sign of desperation, and even though the Inquirer backed Boockvar, Fitzpatrick destroyed Boockvar by a margin of nearly 14 points in November. At the same time, Mitt Romney won the district by 204 votes, the closest Presidential election margin in any Congressional district. Overall, Fitzpatrick ran 6.58% ahead of Romney districtwide.
Below is a map that shows how Mitt Romney performed in PA-08 in 2012.
Below is a map that shows how much Fitzpatrick overperformed Romney in each municipality in the 8th district in 2012.
2-4 ahead: Dodger blue
4-6.56 ahead: Powder blue
6.56-10 ahead: Salmon
10-12 ahead: Brick
2012 8th District Election Analysis
Mike Fitzpatrick ran extraordinarily well in Lower Bucks, even winning Bensalem Township and running nearly 12 points ahead in parts of the area. He even ran 5.78 points ahead of Romney in the new Montgomery County slice of the 8th district. Fitzpatrick's worst performances, though, were in the wealthiest portions of Bucks County. Fitzpatrick, who's anti-gay marriage and anti-civil unions, only ran 2 points ahead of Romney in New Hope and 3 points ahead in Solebury Township, two municipalities with a large, affluent gay populations centered in New Hope. Fitzpatrick also only ran 2.51 and 2.53 points ahead of Romney in highly affluent Upper Makefield Township, 2.53 points ahead in affluent Wrightstown Township, and 3.20% and 3.28% respectively in Doylestown Township and the borough of Doylestown. While Doylestown was Boockvar's affluent base, the former two townships are heavily wealthy (more so in Upper Makefield) and swung hard towards Mitt Romney in respect to John McCain's performance in 2008. Fitzpatrick performed well in the rural and exurban portions of the district in Upper Bucks, running just behind or just ahead of his district average overperformance of 6.56%.
Mike Fitzpatrick did well enough in both blue collar Lower Bucks and generally white collar Middle/Upper Bucks that he should feel relatively comfortable about the safety of his hold on the seat. At this point, Bucks Democrats, who hold none of the four Bucks County Senate distrits and only three of its State House seats, have such a weak bench in Bucks that there is no one who comes to mind easily who could upend the extremely popular Fitzpatrick. While Fitzpatrick is conceivably safe, if he honors his three-term term limit pledge, Bucks County Republicans would have a dilema on their hands in the event of a Fitzpatrick retirement. Would it be better to nominate someone like Fitzpatrick with moderate appeal in Middle/Upper Bucks and plenty of appeal in Lower Bucks, or would it be better to nominate a Jim Gerlach-style moderate conservative with great appeal in Middle/Upper Bucks and no appeal in Lower Bucks?
That all being said, Republicans' hold on the 8th district looks promising, and the GOP should hold it through the decade barring a Democratic wave year and a poor GOP candidate.