Is anti-Trump wave spurring candidates for school, council seats?
Bucks County Democratic Chairman John Cordisco is planning a municipal-election assault on nearly two dozen GOP-leaning towns in his suburban battleground.
Like other Democratic leaders across the politically crucial suburbs, he is gunning to capitalize on the wave of anti-Trump activism. He has hired a staffer to help candidates collect nominating signatures to appear on ballots for school district and municipal races. Turnout at recent petition events has been high, even in Republican towns, he said.
"We have all hands on deck," said Cordisco, whose county leans Democratic in voter registration but whose local offices are dominated by Republicans. "I'm truly excited."
Typically, Democrats stay home for the low-turnout races upon which Republicans, who control Washington and Harrisburg, have built their electoral power.
But local Democratic chiefs say this year is different: A slew of liberal candidates and volunteers have come forward to say they will run for school board, council, and supervisor seats. In some GOP-dominated towns, Democrats already have full slates of candidates, two weeks before the March 7 deadline to get on the ballot.
"Our petition signings have been unlike anything I've ever seen," said Brian McGinnis, Democratic chairman in Chester County, where the GOP has a voter edge but where Hillary Clinton soundly defeated President Trump. "We've had more and more people interested in running for office, and more and more people that are running for office."
If Republicans are nervous about a looming local-race battle, they aren't showing it. The Trump fire burns on both ends of the political spectrum.
Pat Poprik, who leads Bucks County's GOP, said her own army of Trump-motivated volunteers had remained engaged this year after joining as foot soldiers for last year's presidential election.
"Donald Trump, for whatever they want to say, has awakened this country," Poprik said, adding that local party meetings this year have been better attended. "We're seeing these people coming out of nowhere."
Said Val DiGiorgio, the Republican Party chair in Chester County: "I think they need to be more concerned about us than we do about them."
Democrats say time will tell if the activism they are seeing endures and yields electoral results. But they are acting quickly to seize an opportunity.
In Montgomery County, where Republicans lost control of county offices only a few years ago but retain a sizable electoral footprint, Democrats report that petition organizing meetings in some GOP strongholds have been packed.
"There are areas where the Democratic Party is not strong and it's [typically] difficult to find candidates," said party Chairman Joseph Foster. "This year we're finding candidates in those areas."
In Royersford to the west and Souderton to the north, he said, the party has already assembled a full slate for local offices.
For years now, the party has done well on national and statewide races. The only local county where Republicans still outnumber registered Democrats is Chester, where the party enjoys a mix of politically moderate professionals who work along its financial and biotech corridor, and traditional conservatives.
Clinton's 25,000-vote win there in November suggests to Democrats that they might peel off disaffected Trump Republicans in local races. But making that happen may be harder than it seems.
"We've controlled the courthouse and county commissioners since Reconstruction, and no one in recent memory can remember them ever winning a row office," said DiGiorgio, recently elected state GOP chairman. "We have one of the four or five wealthiest, healthiest, most educated counties in the nation. What are they going to run on?"
Andrew Reilly, his counterpart in neighboring Delaware County, where the GOP has an enduring local party machine, echoed that confidence, but with a hedge.
"We don't need to retool," Reilly said, adding: "We'll have to see what materializes."
Milling among residents who turned out at a crowded Montgomery County Democratic petition party Thursday night at a sports bar in Upper Merion Township were two newbie candidates who represent the party's aspirations: Kyle Shenk and Jenna Ott, both 33.
Shenk is running for council in Bridgeport Borough. Ott, a marketing professional, seeks a slot on the Republican-dominated North Penn school board in Lansdale.
"I've been doing a lot of activism since the election," Ott said. "It hit me a week ago that it's not enough. I could do more."
Shenk, a real estate investor in Bridgeport, said he decided to run after his wife's cousin -- organizer of Philadelphia's recent women's rally against Trump -- suggested he seek an at-large seat. He is doing so because, he said, helping the Democratic Party might be the best way to resist "the more regressive policies that I see coming down the road."
By Thursday, Shenk already had more than enough signatures for a ballot position. But he revealed a competitive fire behind his nascent candidacy.
"I needed 10. I've got 40, I want more," he said. "It makes a statement."