Pennsylvania’s swing two-county elections may offer clues for the year ahead
NAZARETH, Pennsylvania – Steve Lynch says his campaign for a low-level elected office in Pennsylvania aims to protect the constitutional freedoms of its neighbors. The Republican has denounced the 2020 election results and what is taught in schools and pledged never to impose masks or vaccines.
The most of these problems would be greater than his level of pay if he were to become Northampton County Officer. But that doesn’t stop Lynch from deploying campaign rhetoric more often seen in congressional or gubernatorial races.
“People are realizing that we cannot trust the federal government,” he said in an interview. “We have to start creating … freedom in our local areas.”
In 2021, more than ever, even the most local policies are national.
Next week’s local elections, such as the Northampton race and another county executive contest in Erie, will offer clues about the strength of the two parties – and the kind of candidates who can draw voters to the most politically competitive parts of Pennsylvania ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
Northampton, in Lehigh Valley, and Erie, in northwestern Pennsylvania, are the only two counties in the state to have voted twice for Barack Obama before switching to Donald Trump in 2016 and then returning to Joe. Biden in 2020.
In Erie, 37-year-old Tyler Titus has beaten a more moderate list of primary candidates and could become the first openly transgender person in the country to lead a county. Titus’ campaign has featured Republican Brenton Davis as a promoter of vaccine and election misinformation, highlighting past social media posts.
“The old adage that all politics are local, we all now realize it’s no longer the case,” said Charlie Dent, a former Republican congressman from Lehigh Valley. “These local races are much more nationalized than they ever were in my lifetime. Local issues will always matter in a local race, but national mood matters more. “
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The county executive, a position that exists in only a handful of counties in Pennsylvania, oversees local government, as well as a county council. Their constitution is the county’s charter of autonomy. Duties include overseeing a multi-million dollar budget (in Northampton it was around $ 470 million in 2021, in Erie around $ 500 million), running the elections, and overseeing electoral services. health and social. This is not an unimportant post, but it is not a post where national issues usually come to the fore.
But national issues drive participation, GOP strategist Mike Barley said. “This is usually the lowest turnout of any election … but I have a feeling pro-Trump Republican voters are coming in and it probably has nothing to do with … county executive and more to do with Washington. “
Democrats face an increasingly unpopular president, whose approval rating has fallen nearly 10 percentage points in Pennsylvania since August, according to an October Franklin and Marshall poll. And history is not on their side. The party that takes control of the White House has traditionally not done well in the municipal elections that follow.
Northampton is home to small towns like Bethlehem and Easton as well as more rural places like Nazareth and political registration is split almost evenly between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats admit they are nervous about Lynch, a political foreigner who has never run for office and is significantly underfunded.
“In a normal year, under normal circumstances, Steve Lynch would be practically mocked at the poll,” said Northampton Democratic President Matt Munsey. “But we have to take it seriously. It doesn’t matter who the candidates are or how far they are outside of the mainstream … we have to assume that such a candidate can actually win.
Munsey is concerned that at this national moment the GOP is more motivated. Republicans were galvanized by the school board races and the baseless crusade that the 2020 election results were inaccurate.
“My biggest concern is the Democrats who don’t feed off anything that will feel like ‘you know we did our job last year … we don’t have to worry about it,'” said Munsey.
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Incumbent Lamont McClure knows the eyes of political observers are on what’s going on here, but he believes Lynch’s more extreme views will mobilize Democrats. He touted a grant program to help small businesses survive the pandemic and announced in October that he wanted to cut taxes in the county. But one tactic of choice shone the spotlight on Lynch, whom he called a “domestic terrorist.” McClure spent $ 257,000 in the last few weeks of the campaign on commercials and television. Part of its war chest came from union PACs.
Lynch has raised $ 42,000 but has spent only $ 14,000 since September.
“I hope what we see here is that calm, responsible and reasonable leadership can still be in vogue,” said McClure. “I think it’s not entirely true that the fringes of either party have completely captured the parties. I think you can take the middle lane and still win the election. “
Democratic votes tend to be stable in Northampton, meaning Republican participation could be the deciding factor.
At the Lynch rally on Monday, a crowd of about 75 people wore Trump hats and t-shirts that said, “We the people are pissed off.” Several said they generally do not vote in local elections.
“You know, 2020 was a wake-up call that we have to start from the bottom. And we have to restructure the whole government from scratch, ”said Lori Phillips, 57, of Danielsville. “I am more and more aware of what is going on in Northampton County. I don’t like them trying to take away our freedoms. What they’re trying to do in schools and racial theory is just ridiculous.
One supporter wore a “1 in 20” jersey, a reference to Lynch’s comment at a rally in Harrisburg that other Republicans get “20 strong men” to remove school board members voting for mask terms. The video has gone viral. Lynch has since said he tries to stand up for parents who are being bullied and has denied threatening school board members.
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John Brown, the last Republican to hold the county executive seat, now candidate for county council this year, said Lynch, who lives in the Northampton School District, may have a “different style”, but he appeals to parents frustrated with school problems. .
“It motivates 25 to 45 year olds, who typically stay home,” Brown said.
And in a rare deviation from national issues, Lynch accused McClure of failures related to the understaffed county hospital, Gracedale on Monday. Lynch has repeatedly called McClure corrupt and accused him of campaigning and refusing to cooperate with the ICE.
“Essentially, McClure is making Northampton County a county sanctuary for illegal aliens, crime, MS13 gang members, child trafficking,” Lynch told the crowd. “He wants a sanctuary for these things. I want a sanctuary for the constitutional rights of the constituents of Northampton County.
McClure said hiring was difficult at the nursing home and called Lynch’s other accusations “a witchcraft mix of misinformation, half-truths and lies.”
Across the state in another swing county, Democrat Erie Titus also attempted to discredit Republican county executive candidate Brenton Davis by portraying him as a fringe opponent who flip-flopped on issues at hand. for political purposes.
The vacant county executive seat has been held by a Democrat since the 1970s, but is rarely won by more than around 400 votes.
A paid advertisement from Titus’ campaign shows photos of the January 6 insurgency in Washington as well as social media posts Davis made about staying “well armed” ahead of the 2020 election.
The ad includes an audio clip of Davis saying he would never get the shot. Davis later said he received the vaccine and showed the local newspaper a copy of a vaccination card.
Davis, a veteran and construction contractor who showed up for the seat four years ago, did not respond to interview requests. He said in a recent debate that his opinion on the vaccine had changed. He uses his business acumen and criticized Titus for filing for bankruptcy in 2015.
Verel Salmon, Erie’s GOP chairman, said he was fed up with Democrats radicalizing their Republican opponents. He doesn’t think the attacks on Davis, who did not attend the Jan.6 rally, will continue.
“There is absolutely no point in associating this with a serious bread and butter race,” said Salmon. “This race is about jobs, the declining population. Trump is just not part of that.
And yet politically part of Davis’ challenge To was to appeal to both the Trump base and more moderate Republicans in order to muster enough voters to win.
“This represents the conundrum of Trump,” Dent said. “Candidates who identify most with Trump have advantages in the primaries, but in a swing county like Northampton or Erie, that connection can prove fatal in a general election.
The electorate in municipal races also tends to be older and includes more Democrats and moderate Republicans, said Erie County Democratic County Chairman Jim Wertz.
“I think what remains to be seen is whether or not this Trump base will come together with people who are not Donald Trump,” Wertz said.
The race saw an influx of money for a county-wide campaign, as did the bid for the sheriff. Titus spent $ 372,434 at last month’s depot, with $ 86,962 on hand and Davis spent $ 307,495, with $ 15,734. Davis criticized Titus for getting more than half of that money from outside donors.
Whether Titus can win is also something Democrats are watching ahead of the 2022 primaries for the historic precedent it would set.
Titus’ campaign did not make the genre a big part of its message, instead focusing on expanding health and human services. Davis also didn’t focus on the genre. But Titus recognizes the significant crack that a victory could create in the often-held notion that a non-traditional candidate cannot win in swing zones.
“We’re not sitting here in Brooklyn, Austin or Portland,” Titus campaign manager Josh Rosenbaum said. “We are in a place that is so often described as the barometer of the country.”