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Chester County Press

Editorial: Chester County: Forever Republican?

11/01/2016 01:14PM ● By Richard Gaw
According to the FiveThirtyEight election forecast website this week, Hillary Clinton has an 83.7 percent chance of winning the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in the presidential election. In a statewide Franklin & Marshall College Poll taken recently, Clinton led Republican candidate Donald Trump by seven percentage points in Pennsylvania, and Democratic Senate challenger Katie McGinty led incumbent Republican Pat Toomey by five percentage points.
You would never know it by driving around a large portion of Chester County.
Whether they are placed there by Republican Committee of Chester County volunteers or by residents, the quantity of Trump-Pence signs far outnumber those of Clinton-Kaine. Many Trump signs are printed in the design of the campaign's colors, some are hand-painted and nailed onto the sides of barns, while others seem to have been crafted haphazardly and stuck in the ground at the end of driveways, and for many reasons. They are accusing Clinton of sabotaging what they feel is a "rigged election." They call her a criminal for her role, as former Secretary of State, in the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya. They believe that she should be sent to jail for violating common edicts that dictate private information by sending classified information on a private email server.
No matter how these signs were constructed, they serve as the foghorn blast of anti-Clinton sentiment in a county that has historically been the most conservative county on the eastern side of Pennsylvania...or are these signs merely a reflection of how things roll here?
The truth is in the numbers: Of the 516,000 residents in Chester County, 338,000 are registered voters, and among them, almost 45 percent of them are registered as Republicans, while 38 percent are registered as Democrats.*
The proof is also in its recent history. In the contentious 2000 election, George W. Bush won by ten percentage points in Chester County, and beat John Kerry four years later by 4.5 percent, becoming the only suburban Philadelphia county that Bush carried in 2004. The county sided with Barack Obama in his 2008 election -- the first Democratic presidential candidate it supported since Lyndon Johnson in 1964. In the 2012 presidential election, the county narrowly swung back, as Republican candidate Mitt Romney drew a little more than one thousand votes more than Obama. 
The proof is also in its governance. In the U.S. House of Representatives, Ryan Costello, Pat Meehan and Joe Pitts are all Republicans. All nine seats in the State House of Representatives are held by Republicans, and Andy Dinnaman is the lone Democrat representing the county in the State Senate. Closer to home, every prominent county official -- save for County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone -- is a Republican.
Yet, as we approach the 2016 presidential election next week, there is the question of whether all of those Trump-Pence signs throughout Chester County are well-placed predictors, or merely blowing in the wind of a shifting sentiment.
A few weeks ago, "Saturday Night Live" veterans Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon portrayed two undecided women voters from the Philadelphia suburbs. While their skit poked fun at the two candidates, it also hit hard. The demographic is not just an invention, it's real, and it puts a highly-educated constituency who has the highest income of any county in Pennsylvania in the center ring of who Trump most needs to win on Nov. 8.
The proof is in the behavior. A recent poll found that Clinton was leading Trump by 28 percentage points in the four suburban counties surrounding Philadelphia, and of those questioned, 68 percent of likely voters—including 76 percent of women—said that they were offended by his recent derogatory and inflammatory remarks about women, exacerbated by the lengthy list of women who have accused the businessman and entertainer of sexually assaulting them. The candidate's controversial remarks against Muslims, military veterans, immigrants and Mexicans have only contributed to those shrinking numbers.
In short, Chester County is proof that the allegiances are shifting, and for reasons having little to do with politics.
And yet, less than one week from Election Day, those Trump-Pence signs on the back roads of Chester County are still in the ground and on the sides of barns. In the soon-to-be  aftermath of a dispiriting campaign for the presidency, they may be there for a long time. Whether they serve to represent the stronghold that the Republican Party has had on Chester County, or whether they are the last vestiges of an unrelenting anti-Clinton backlash here that refuses to bend, the ultimate proof of their impact—and their sentiment—will be in the results.

* as of Nov. 2013

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