Back in 1958, Mayor Richardson Dilworth was blunt but accurate when he called Philadelphia’s suburbs a “white noose” around our city’s neck. Back then, politics throughout Montgomery, Delaware, Bucks and Chester counties was dominated by the right. And, if Dilworth were around to size up this year’s Democratic congressional races, well, he might say that noose — loosened for a while by an influx of liberal suburbanites — has tightened again.
Around the suburban counties, Democratic hopefuls attempting to unseat GOP faithful are confronting a treacherous road to Washington. Foremost among them: Bucks County’s Kathy Boockvar, taking on Republican Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick in Pennsylvania’s 8th District. Boockvar was considered the most likely Democratic challenger in the ’burbs, raising $520,000 from July to September. But recently, her outlook has dimmed.
The National Republican Congressional Committee hit Boockvar with inflammatory, dishonest right-wing advertisements, tying her to the controversially convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal. The NRCC also made a website, aimed at spiking suburban blood pressure, that condemned Boockvar as “Radical Kathy.” The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee signaled its pessimism by canceling a large ad buy in the region. In October, several pundits upgraded the district from “lean GOP” to “likely GOP.”
It may seem puzzling that Boockvar is facing such a hard time in a district that, like most of Philly’s suburbs, has seen Democratic voter registration rise due to demographic changes and the Republican Party’s destruction of its moderate wing. Suburbanites have lined up behind Democratic candidates for president, Senate and governor, and not too long ago they sent Dems like Patrick Murphy and Joe Sestak to Congress.
But between then and now was the nationwide conservative backlash of 2010, which not only flipped the two recently won congressional seats in the suburbs back to Republican control, but also put the party in control of the state legislature just in time for post-census redistricting. The congressional seats were gerrymandered to ensure Republican advantage. That edge is evident in Boockvar’s race; in the bid by Democrat, doctor and Iraq war vet Manan Trivedi to take down Rep. Jim Gerlach in the 6th congressional district; and especially in mummer and lawyer George Badey’s campaign to unseat Rep. Pat Meehan, whose five-county district is a cartographic absurdity that at one point narrows to just 800 feet wide.
With the presidential race a dead heat in the suburbs, Democratic voters may be dispirited. But thanks to redistricting, it’s also the politicians who choose their voters, not the other way around.
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