What I Learned Outside the Convention Bubble
Pennsylvania Democrats haven't closed the deal in down-ballot races
WYNNEWOOD, Pa. — Stephanie Peditto is a reminder that it’s good for reporters to venture outside the bubble because normal people don’t always follow the campaigns closely.
After nearly two consecutive weeks of covering party conventions, it was time to take a break from the overwhelming world of politicians, delegates and fellow members of the media. On Thursday morning, I drove west a few miles outside of Philadelphia to nearby Wynnewood.
I parked my silver (and rented) Nissan Altima in a neighborhood where the 1st, 2nd, and 7th Congressional Districts collide and awkwardly waited for someone to interview — hoping to catch a native in the wild suburbs and capture his or her thoughts on the upcoming elections.
As I considered knocking on doors like an encyclopedia salesman, I spotted Peditto engrossed in yardwork. I assumed she wouldn’t be interested in talking to a strange reporter from the Beltway, and may have even considered calling law enforcement, until I noticed what she was wearing.
Decked out in yellow running shorts and a white Hillary Clinton for President t-shirt, Peditto took a break from mowing the front lawn of the white house her parents built in 1966 to talk politics.
The shirt is actually from 2008, when her nephew worked on the New York senator’s campaign, and when this year’s nominating contest between Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders came to the Keystone State in late April, Peditto wrote in Vice President Joe Biden .
“That might have been the only vote he got in Pennsylvania,” Peditto said with a smile, even though it’s not likely she was alone in her admiration for the Scranton, Pa. native.
Peditto praised Biden’s work in the Senate and as vice president, but also felt a personal connection. She remembers her days as a student at what is now Wilmington University when Biden first ran for the Senate in 1972 in Delaware.
“I’ve always supported him,” added Peditto, who missed the vice president’s compelling speech on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center because, as a freelance photographer, she was at the Philadelphia airport waiting for President Barack Obama’s arrival via Air Force One.
Now that the primary process is over, Peditto is on board with Clinton, but there is a significant gap in her enthusiasm about some down-ballot Democratic opportunities.
Peditto lives on Farwood Lane on the edge of GOP Rep. Patrick J. Meehan ’s 7th District, but within a long Mike Schmidt home run from Democratic Rep. Robert A. Brady ‘s 1st District to the south and the 2nd District to the east, which is now vacant after Democratic Rep. Chaka Fattah resigned under federal indictment. The combination of districts might sound like part of Republicans’ gerrymandering effort after the 2010 census, but it happens to be where Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties come together. This is the type of suburban area where Democrats would do well to balance out Donald Trump’s potential over-performance in more rural areas of the state.
I asked the lifelong Democrat about her Republican congressman, who started the cycle as a top takeover target, considering Obama won his district 51-48 percent in 2008.
“I haven’t followed him,” she replied, while holding up a small green trash can with two rakes and lawn trimmings. “I guess he’s probably OK.” Peditto was concerned about House Republicans’ inaction on gun control, she’s not for taking hunters’ guns away but her worldview is shaped by Robert F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1968.
Peditto also couldn’t recall Meehan’s challenger, Mary Ellen Balchunis, or inner-city Pastor Bill Golderer, the highly-touted Democratic recruit who she defeated in the primary 74-26 percent.
Of course Peditto is one voter in a district where at least 200,000 votes are likely to be cast in November. But her lack of knowledge of the race makes sense considering national Democrats have decided to punt the race in November.
In a Monday briefing at the Tasting Room of the Le Meridien hotel in Philadelphia’s Center City (which is unfortunately nowhere near the Wells Fargo Center), Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Ben Ray Lujan and Executive Director Kelly Ward focused on the party’s efforts in Pennsylvania’s 8th and 16th Districts, which are open due to Republican members not seeking re-election.
When asked about the competitive 6th and 7th, Ward said they were “harder districts in the general election” and “probably won’t be coming together this cycle.” The lack of top challengers in some competitive districts is one reason why Democrats are still long-shots to win the majority at this stage of the cycle.
Even though the House district isn’t competitive, Peditto and her neighborhood have the potential to influence which party will control the Senate next year, so I asked about GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey.
“He’s trying to get stricter gun control laws but hasn’t succeed yet,” Peditto explained. That’s sure to drive Democratic strategists crazy because they believe the senator was an inactive co-sponsor of the bill with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin to tighten controls on gun purchases.
Peditto voted for Katie McGinty in the primary over former representative and 2010 nominee Joe Sestak in the Democratic primary, but is still “on the fence” in the general election that could decide the Senate majority. The Rothenberg & Gonzales Political Report/Roll Call rates the race as Tilts Republican.
National Democrats spent millions of dollars making sure McGinty won the primary and she was given the chance to highlight her race at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday evening, just a few hours before Clinton accepted the nomination. But she also faced a series of negative stories earlier in the week after calling Toomey an “a**hole.”
“This is the second time I’m so undecided,” Peditto explained while declining to mention the first time, even off-the-record.
McGinty probably can’t afford for voters like Peditto to be undecided, but there is still three months before Election Day and tens of millions of dollars to be spent on advertising.
I finally released Peditto, back to her yardwork and then to her air-conditioned home, where she planned to watch Joe Biden’s convention speech.