The Secret to Winning the House Majority: Just Look at Pennsylvania

Winning the House in November and winning the presidency in 2020 will hinge on how effectively Democrats can connect with voters who supported Trump, or who stayed home altogether. With only 23 seats needed for Democrats to take back the house, a full 4-6 of them could come from Pennsylvania.

On August 19th, The New York Times published an article entitled “Trump Won Pennsylvania. Democrats Want the State (and His Voters) Back”, in which they detail how Democrats have found a model with candidates like Congressman Conor Lamb, who are in no rush to remind everyone that they’re Democrats. Lamb won a special election in March in a district carried by Trump by nearly 20 points. Lamb is now running in Pennsylvania’s new 17th district.

Lamb’s recipe for success is reaching out to groups of college-educated suburbanites and union workers, both of which are persuadable enough to jump back in the Democratic column. It’s a delicate balance. Lamb speaks about labor rights and economic fairness but is more conservative on guns. He rarely mentions he’s a democrat.

Other Democrats in Trump country have taken a similar strategy. Congressman Matt Cartwright has been running on protecting Social Security and affordable healthcare in Pennsylvania’s newly constituted 8th congressional district but hasn’t mentioned Trump much at all. Rather than making everything about the president, Cartwright and Lamb are focused on connecting with Trump’s supporters on issues they care about and winning them back in key defensive districts.

While it is essential to employ these strategies in these two seats where Democrats are playing defense, the even better news for Pennsylvania Democrats lies elsewhere in the state, where they stand to pick up at least 3 if not 5 or 6 additional seats on the new, fairer congressional maps. In the highly college-educated Collar Counties surrounding Philadelphia (the new 1st, 4th, 5th and 6th congressional districts), Hillary Clinton performed very strongly, often outpacing President Obama’s 2012 numbers. Democratic enthusiasm has remained high in these counties, and even grown since 2016, with Democrats flipping countywide seats in 2017. Democrats enthusiasm is also ratcheting up elsewhere in the state such as the Lehigh Valley (7th congressional district with Susan Wild) and the 10th and 16th congressional districts, in Harrisburg/York and Erie respectively.

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