Shelly Chauncey—She Jumps into PA Congressional Race to Rebuild the “Blue Wall”—January 30, 2018
After that awful 11/08/2016 election, we never heard the end of pundits and Donald’s own campaign strategists yammering, “The Blue Wall has crumbled, the Blue Wall has crumbled!” The “Blue Wall” is the term applied to states that between the 1992 and 2012 presidential elections gave Democrats an electoral advantage. Most of these states sat adjacent to each other in block- like wall patterns. These constituted states in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, the upper Midwest, and the West Coast. With this “Blue Wall,” Democrats needed to pick up just a few more additional states to reach the “magic” 270 Electoral College number to win the presidency. It was taken as “a given” by Hillary and her campaign strategists that this “Blue Wall” was rock solid.
As we all now know, the “Blue Wall” was wobbly. It crumbled, dashing Hillary’s victory hopes. Three key states in that “Blue Wall,” PA, MI, and WI fell from their moorings and joined “Team Red,” giving Demagogue Donald victory. The margin consisted of just .7% in PA, .3% in MI, and .7% in WI. The combined vote total of those three states giving Trump the edge was about 77,000 votes. Yes, 77,000 votes out of more than 136 million ballots cast nationwide. Trump’s 77,000 victory margin was smaller than those in attendance when the Ohio State Buckeyes beat a high school football team in Columbus in late 11/2016. Had Hillary captured those three states by any margin, she would have won the Electoral College 278-260 and, therefore, the White House (nytimes.com, 8/01/17 & 9/13/17, McCormack, “Weekly Standard, 11/10/16, Washington Post, Bump, 12/01/16). Too many Rust Belters in PA, MI, and WI were taken in by Don “the Con’s” fake populist talk and his empty promises to get them jobs. Since Trump took over, he has filled the D.C. swamp with millionaire/ billionaire appointees and signed a top-1% anti-middle class tax cut scam. He has outsourced at least 10, 269 jobs, 11% of trade layoffs, compared to 4% in the previous five years under Obama (“The Hill,” Greenwood, 11/30/17).
The Rust Belt and the rest of the country are souring on Donald. Since Donald took office, Democrats have flipped at least 34 GOP seats “Blue,” many of them in “ruby Red” areas. Democratic enthusiasm and turnout is skyrocketing. On 1/23/2018, Democrats won another special election, this time, in PA. The 35th State House District in the southern Pittsburgh suburbs was expected to go and did remain Democratic. However, the Democratic winner, Austin Davis, clobbered his GOP rival 74%-26%. Davis outperformed Hillary by 30 points and Obama by 12. In 2018, Dems in state special elections have outperformed their 2016 vote by an average of 23%. In 2017, that average was a 10% overperformance (Chapman, shareblue.com, 1/24/18, Lambert, Kos). Such special election performances bode well for the 11/2018 midterms where Democrats need a net 24 seats to take back the House. One of the congressional districts (CDs) in play, is the PA 7th. In 2016, the 7th CD was won by incumbent GOP Cong. Pat Meehan. However, it went for Hillary over Trump by a 2.3 percentage margin. Let’s look at this PA CD and one of the Democratic hopefuls, Shelly Chauncey.
The PA 7th Congressional District (CD) is “located” in the suburban Philadelphia area, and includes affluent Main Line towns such as Bryn Mawr as well as the colleges and universities of Haverford and Villanova. This non-congruous district is best known for “creative” GOP drawing, translation, extreme gerrymandering. The Keystone State 7th has been nicknamed by many critics as “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck” for its absurd shape (cbsnews.com, 1/14/18). On 3/30/2012, the National Journal listed the PA 7th as one of the top ten most contorted congressional districts due to redistricting (National Journal, “Modern Gerrymanders:10 Most Contorted Congressional Districts-MAPS”). When Democrats did not vote in 2010, the GOP captured the PA governorship and dominated both state legislative chambers. After months of closed door negotiations, Keystone State GOPers revealed their required redistricting plan that then Republican Gov. Tom Corbett signed in 12/2011. This plan was drawn using mapmaking software that analyzes voting patterns block by block. It ruthlessly sewed PA, particularly the Philadelphia suburbs, into a crazy quilt. Suburban Montgomery County, about the population of one congressional district, was split five ways to boost the electoral prospects of three GOP Congressmen, including Pat Meehan, who had won his first congressional race in 2010 (See Barone 14 Political Almanac, NY Times, Gabriel, 1/26/18). In Meehan’s 7th CD, GOPers gave him most of Delaware County but removed the city of Chester and the heavily black townships and boroughs in the eastern part of that county. These same GOP mapmakers added an awkward looking part of strongly “Red” Amish Lancaster County to Meehan’s 7th . This newly “configured” 7th also contained parts of central Montgomery County, the southern portion of Berks County, and the central portions of Chester County.
The twists and turns in the 7th CD’s political world, made to rope conservative rural areas in and shove Democratic ones out, are beyond bizarre. At the point on the map where Goofy’s foot contacts Donald Duck’s rump, the district is precisely as wide as Brandywine Hospital. In the west, the boundary juts across the grounds of an elementary school, crosses the Kingswood Lane cul-de-sac and heads north of a Turkey Hill market before plunging south again, just to exclude the “Blue”-leaning town of Coatesville. At one juncture, where Goofy’s head connects to his body in Montgomery County, the district is only as wide as a parking lot, the one at Creed’s Seafood and Steaks in the King of Prussia community (NY Times, Gabriel, 1/26/18).
Even with all this GOP redistricting “artwork,” the 4/2017 Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) gave “Team Red” a mere R+1 score (Cook Political Report). However, this twisting-and-turning redistricting was enough to allow Meehan to get easily re- elected. Fourth-term incumbent Pat Meehan (62) is a former Bowdoin College hockey player who later received a law degree from Temple University. Meehan worked as a campaign manager for far-right former PA GOP Sen. Rick Santorum. After serving as head U. S. Atty. for PA’s Eastern District, he won the 7th’s CD open seat in Tea Party year 2010, replacing a Democrat. Koch money, to the tune of $7,500, aided him (Philadelphia Inquirer, Meehan.house.gov, Opensecrets.org). Cong. Meehan has voted to repeal Obamacare and for Paul Ryan’s drastic cut Medicare/ anti-middle class budget (Meehan.house.gov, Politico, 4/06/11). In the Trump era, Meehan has voted with Donald 89.1% of the time, up there with hard core GOP Southerners, not with his Hillary-voting district. Meehan voted for Donald’s top 1% tax cut heist and banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy (projectsfivethirtyeight.com).
Incumbent Meehan still looked like he could win re-election in Campaign 2018. However, on 1/25/2018, he stated he would not run for re-election. Even his Goofy Kicking Donald 7th CD could not save Meehan. A few days before his announcement, the NY Times reported that a former aide had accused Meehan of making unwanted romantic advances and that he had settled the case with the staffer by paying her out of a member’s allowance fund. He lamely called this woman his “soulmate (Politico, Isenstadt, 1/25/18).” After the NY Times’ report on Meehan, GOP House Speaker Paul Ryan removed him from his post on the House Ethics Committee. That committee is where congressmen investigate their fellow members for sexual and monetary misconduct (Summers, 1/21/18). Wow! Meehan, accused of committing sexual improprieties, was responsible for “investigating” others with similar problems.
Even before Meehan stating he would not seek re-election, Democrats were looking to flip this district because it had voted for Hillary and had many college-educated affluent voters who have turned against Trump. Five other Democratic candidates were challenging Meehan, but the Democratic front-runner, a state senator, “stepped back,” in the wake of allegations he inappropriately touched women or made sexually charged jokes (delcotimes.com, Rose, 1/22/18).
On 1/22/2018, Shelly Chauncey announced her candidacy as a Democrat in the PA 7th. Chauncey, a resident of Glenn Mills, is a political newcomer. She is running because she wants to “see real change in Washington… We need to send different kinds of people there… people who don’t drive a pick-up truck in a campaign, but actually drive one in real life. People who can speak to the experience most people have to the chaos politicians are creating in Washington (delcotimes.com, Rose).” Chauncey stated she “can’t sit back and watch our representative go to Washington and support an administration that’s taking away our health care and destroying the equality of our education (Clout, philly.com, 1/22/18).” Chauncey grew up on a small family farm, the daughter of a prison guard and teacher. She worked two jobs to pay for college. Chauncey (37), a cancer survivor and mother of three, also graduated from Drexel University Law School. For 15 years, she worked for the CIA. She started as a secretary and moved up, working undercover in Latin America and East Asia (Clout, philly.com). Chauncey is a woman with a national security background who comes from the working class, a stellar Democratic recruit. The last Democrat who represented the PA 7th before he unsuccessfully ran for the Senate in 2010, Joe Sestak, was a retired Navy admiral (Clout, philly.com). Chauncey is planning to meet with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) which recruits and supports “Blue” candidates, as well as EMILY’s LIST, a financial backer of female candidates. Other donors have pledged their support (Clout, philly.com).
There is additional good news for “Team Blue.” On 1/22/2018, the same day Chauncey announced her candidacy, the PA State Supreme Court ruled that PA’s U.S. House maps were based on a partisan gerrymander that violated the state’s constitution and struck them down. This court told PA that it has till mid-Feb. to redraw fair maps and have the governor sign them into law. If Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the GOP state legislature can’t agree on fair maps, the State Supreme Court has appointed Stanford professor Nathaniel Persily as a special master to do it. These maps most likely will not take incumbency into account and will not be wackily drawn (See cbsnews.com, 1/23/18, huffingtonpost.com, Levine, 1/29/18). The PA GOP and PA’s 11 “Red” congressmen have appealed this case to the U.S. Supreme Court asking the High Court to block the state court’s order. However, unlike other gerrymandering cases before the High Court involving the U.S. Constitution, the PA Supreme Court’s opinion is based on what the law calls “independent state grounds,” the PA Constitution (huffingtonpost, Levine). This case should, therefore, not be taken up by the Supreme Court, but who knows?
If the U.S. Supreme Court stays out of this case, these fairer maps will be in place by 11/2018. Under fairer maps, Democrats will probably get 3-4 more seats, helping the Democrats in their efforts to flip 24 “Red” seats “Blue” to retake the House. In swing state PA, since the post-2010 GOP gerrymander, GOPers have lopsidedly held 13 seats to the Dems 5, in a state where Dems outnumber GOPers 5-4 (Vox, Prokop, 1/22/2018, cbsnews. com 1/23/18). PA has become the “poster child” for what constitutes absurd gerrymandering, allowing Congressmen to pick their constituents, not constituents to pick their Congressmen (See Vox, Prokop, 1/22/18, See Mann & Ornstein, “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks”). Already, GOPers are talking about choosing to “sacrifice” Meehan’s district to a Democrat (Politico,1/25/2018, Isenstadt). And should the PA Supreme Court redraw this map, the “Goofy-Donald Duck” 7th ‘s political cartoon run will surely end. In the primary and on Election Day 11/06/2018, no matter what happens with these redistricting maps, Democrats must have the last say. They must come out in droves to help Shelly Chauncey rebuild PA’s part of the “Blue Wall.”