Delaware County Democrats and Republicans each have reason for optimism after the May 21 primary. Both parties’ turnouts were significantly higher than in the record-setting 2017 primary, the first election after Donald J. Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton in November 2016. Republican turnout was 20% higher than in 2017, while the Democratic vote surged more than 30%. Total turnout was up in 45 of the county’s 49 municipalities.
Democrats in the county enjoy a nearly 30,000 registered voter advantage over Republicans – a margin that has seen steady gains over the past decade. But Delco tends to go blue only in even-year elections, when federal and state races are contested. Historically, in so-called “off year” elections like 2017 and 2019, when only municipal offices and judicial elections are on the ballot, only the ‘super-voters’ in each party show up. This is especially true in the May primary, when all that’s at stake is getting local nominees on the November ballot. May 21 broke records for off-year primaries, even though only about 20% of each party’s registered voters participated.
An anomaly in Tuesday’s results may signal that a tipping point has been reached: across the board, for the first time, Democratic candidates received as much or more support from their base than their Republican counterparts. For example, Monica Taylor, the most popular of the three Democratic candidates for County Council, received about 3,000 more votes than Mike Morgan, the leading Republican. And Nusrat Rashid, the highest vote-tallying Democrat vying for Common Pleas Judge, garnered about 2,000 more votes from her party than Steven Gerber, the highest Republican candidate, did from his.
Even the vote for District Attorney was a virtual dead heat. In what could be the marquee race of this year’s elections, Republican incumbent Katayoun Copeland is being challenged by Haverford Township Democrat Jack Stollsteimer. A week after the election, the two candidates were separated by just 86 votes out of slightly more than 64,000 cast.
The party faithful on both sides of the aisle who turned out in unprecedented numbers seemed to be aware that, per the old adage, “every vote counts.”
As attention turns to November’s general election – in which control of County Council and the District Attorney’s office is up for grabs - the big question is: how deep is each party’s bench? Unofficial township-level data from Tuesday’s election indicates Republican support increased significantly in places like Aston, Concord and Newtown compared to the primary two years ago. But Democratic advances countywide were more than double the Republicans’ gains, driven by increased turnout in the northern and eastern areas.
As we look ahead to November, one thing is certain: The party that wins will need to turn out a record number of voters. In 2017, which saw Democrats elected to County Council, Sheriff, Register of Wills and Controller for the first time, the winning nominees for Council each received about 61,000 votes – an all-time high for Democrats in an off-year election. Republicans finished just 2,000 votes behind. Yet only about one third of each party’s registered voters participated in the election.
Each of this year’s nominees will almost certainly need to exceed 2017’s totals to win in November. As the primary results demonstrate, that is within reach for both parties.