Every day, I hear the thump on my front door. A missive, arriving from the hinterlands. A thick packet of political mailers, secured with a rubber band. All of them from a wilderness so far removed from my consciousness that it might as well be across the country. I am speaking, of course, of Delaware County.
But I'm a Delconian now — at least congressionally.
Last year I moved to the south side of Mifflin Street in South Philly, which has always been a legislative dividing line — my neighbors across the street inhabit a different district. I mingle with them nonetheless — felt like one of them, even. One, because no one cares that much about congressional districts, and two, because my old district was almost entirely in Philadelphia, with a sliver in Delco.
Earlier this year, though, in a much-overdue effort to remedy some of the worst gerrymandering in a state that sets the gold standard for it, the state Supreme Court redrew the district lines. And I ended up in the Fifth — which comprises the entirety of Delco, a touch of Montco, and a smidge of South Philadelphia. This time, I was in the smidge.
The thing is, I'd never actually taken the rubber band off any of those packets of mailers. And the primary is Tuesday. And so, like any seasoned columnist, I made my colleagues explain to me what the hell was going on out there.
"You should read Clout!" Holly Otterbein, one of our political reporters who's been covering this race for months, chided me.
I do read her weekly column, and it's essential. I just didn't think the Delco parts applied to me.
But, as Otterbein has been reporting, what's happening in the Fifth is probably the most interesting race in the region. There are more Democratic women running for Congress there than in any other primary in the country — which is even more significant when you consider that Rep. Pat Meehan, a Republican, probably would have won reelection if he hadn't resigned over a sexual-harassment scandal last month.
And when you can sort through the mailers, and listen to the voices of the people who are running, you can see Democrats honing their message for the midterms — talking about gun control and the environment and health care and the scourge in the White House. It's a test for what might work in the fall.
Otterbein has been running in-depth interviews with eight of the 10 candidates as the primary approaches. That's down from 16.
"Like the Kentucky Derby," said Phil Heron, the editor of the Delaware County Daily Times, when I rang him up last week. These are heady times for Democrats in Delco, he said. Last year, Democrats made countywide gains not seen since the Civil War.
In this packed race, the old cliché — every vote counts — actually means something.
There are so many Democratic Delco candidates, in fact, that they could cancel one another out and hand the vote to — drum roll, please — Rich Lazer, the favored candidate of who else but Johnny Doc, though campaign polls say it's unlikely. It would be the most Philadelphian story for poor Delco voters to finally get some decent congressional representation, only to have it snatched from them by my sliver of South Philly.
But polls have Delconian Mary Gay Scanlon, an attorney and education advocate backed by former Gov. Ed Rendell, in the lead.
"No one's going to get left out in the cold," Joe Corrigan, the Delco Dems spokesperson, assured me. True, the district has flipped — from 74 percent Philly and 26 percent Delco, to basically the opposite. "We're not going to forget." My sliver hopes so.
Corrigan, who lives in South Philly himself, told me our similarities far outweigh any differences with our neighbors to the west. They care about all the same things we do: good jobs, good schools. And they have priorities. "People here care far more about the Eagles and Sixers than they do about politics," Corrigan said with a laugh.
On the way back to the city from the diner where I met Corrigan on Thursday, I stopped at a Folsom bar called the Frontier, partly because its name hearkened to the wilds I had imagined outside city borders, and partly because my colleague Bill Bender, a native Delconian, had recommended it. There was a fiberglass buffalo on top of the building. I knew I was in the right place.
Inside, the airport workers at the pool table divided into teams — South Philly vs. Southwest. The city's where they all grew up. Nonetheless, I asked them to reveal to me the true soul of the Delconian.
They made me buy them beer. Then they let off several long monologues that were largely unprintable. I realized it was time to head home and hunker down with my mailers.