Brian McGinnis believes Democrats in Pennsylvania should look no further than two counties - one of the state's most affluent and one of its more beleaguered - to understand what went wrong and how to regroup from a devastating Election Day.

What happened in Luzerne and Chester Counties suggest Donald Trump's Keystone State win over Hillary Clinton had as much to do with a flawed Democratic coalition as it did with Trump's unique campaign.

Chester County, where McGinnis is the Democratic Party chairman, delivered big for Clinton, despite a Republican voter registration edge. With six campaign offices, Democrats galvanized Pennsylvnia's most affluent and one of its most educated counties to swing for Clinton by a 24,606-vote margin - thousands more than President Obama in 2012.

But two-and-a-half hours north in economically battered Luzerne County, it made no difference that the Wilkes-Barre region's coal-country Democrats had reliably delivered time and again for the formerly blue state. Luzerne flipped for Trump.

In their soul-searching, Democrats like McGinnis are asking if the chasm can be bridged or if all is lost.

"Taking the vote for granted was the biggest failure that we had," said McGinnis. "We did a great job in Chester County - but throughout the state, I think that we failed in hearing people, hearing their voices."

He and others are critical that the Clinton campaign's message proved so out-of-touch with once reliably Democratic enclaves across the state. But state Democrats themselves largely failed to see that the party had become, with regard to working-class whites, not nearly as inclusive as it had come to bill itself.

"The real issue is we seem to be the party of the white, affluent, educated person. The party for minorities, for LGBT community, for women," McGinnis said. "But we have a problem with white working-class men."

Pennsylvania’s Democratic Decline

In last week’s election, Hillary Clinton received fewer votes than President Obama four years ago in 60 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. In almost half of the counties, the decline was 20 percent or worse.

Click on the counties on the map for more details.
Change in vote from Obama in 2012 to Clinton in 2016

SOURCE: Pennsylvania Department of State

Who among Pennsylvania's Democrats saw this coming?

John Fetterman, maverick mayor of Braddock near Pittsburgh.

Fetterman, the tattooed leader of the post-industrial town, was a lone populist on the left who broke with conventional wisdom and ran this year for U.S. Senate. He, like Trump, tailored his message to the high school-educated Democrats damaged by the hemorrhaging of manufacturing and other middle-class jobs in Pennsylvania.

Fetterman grabbed 20 percent of the primary vote despite little support from members of the party establishment, who remained mostly focused on votes in the state's two metropolitan regions.

He noted that both he and Trump ended up visiting Monessen, the small working-class city south of Pittsburgh that has struggled like other former steel towns.

"I don't think that's a coincidence," said Fetterman, who lost to party favorite Katie McGinty. (McGinty later lost to GOP incumbent Pat Toomey.)

"No progressive groups came to my side," Fetterman said. "We were entirely on our own."

Trump's drubbing of Clinton in Pennsylvania's smaller cities may have also exposed weakness in local Democratic offices in regions where the economy has battered voter hopes and party organizations.

"I've heard some people, since the election results came in, who are blaming the flip of [Luzerne County] to a Republican on the fact that the Democratic Party leadership in the county has been weak," said Tom Baldino, a political science professor at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre.

Baldino, too, wondered whether the party had become complacent.

"Where I voted and a few other people voted, there was no one handing out literature for the Democratic candidates," Baldino said. "I've been here 25 years, there's always someone handing out literature. It tells me that the party didn't think it was necessary or they weren't organized enough to get volunteers to go out to these voting places."

Pennsylvania Democratic Party chief Marcel Groen said addressing that moving forward is a goal.

"In some areas, we've had a lot of internal bickering, if you will, over a long period of time," Groen, a Montgomery County lawyer, said Wednesday. "I think in Luzerne and in Lackawanna, that's been somewhat the case for a while. It's our job to try to clean it up."

Luzerne County Democratic Party chairman Michael DeCosmo did not respond to a request for comment.

But Republicans there appeared to have worked steadily on the ground to grab Democrats who have been defecting since the presidency of Republican Ronald Reagan. Luzerne County GOP chief Ron Ferrance said he and his loyalists followed meticulous get-out-the-vote instructions from the state GOP as far back as June.

"We were concentrating on swing voters when we were going out and doing doors," Ferrance said. "There was nobody saying they were going to vote for Hillary. Which was very unusual."

To Ferrance, Trump's charisma and worker-friendly message was 60 percent of the reason he flipped Luzerne. The rest, he said, was GOP boots on the ground.

"We were not only going to Republicans; we were going to independents, we were going to Democrats, we were going to Libertarians," Ferrance said. "The PA GOP targeted swing voters."

In a conference call Monday with President Obama, Attorney General-Elect Josh Shapiro, one of the state's brighter Democratic stars, touted his own statewide victory as proof that all is not lost.

But Shapiro, who backed Obama over Clinton eight years ago, called for more work to be done on a grassroots level.

"Perhaps the lesson that we must draw from [the election] is that we can't rely on others to do this work for us," Shapiro said.

Groen noted that much can improve for state Democrats if Trump and his fellow Republicans struggle to monolithically craft policy with "no brakes."

"Whatever they do, they're going to have to live with," he said. "The question is how long will it take."

Others believe Pennsylvania Democrats should aggressively reinvent themselves, starting with new, and younger, leaders.

"I think what the Democratic Party will need to do is to recruit candidates who have a Fetterman message," said Baldino, the political science professor. "I don't mean to sound crude here, but who maybe look more like the average, working-class voter. They need to recruit younger people to run for office because the older generation, the [former Democratic Governor Ed] Rendells and the like, I think their time has passed. Their message may still be somewhat relevant, but their time has passed. "

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