For the past 13 years of my life, my hometown has been Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania located in northern Lancaster County. For the longest time Central Pennsylvania, and Lancaster County especially has been one of the most politically inelastic areas in the nation and a bedrock of Pennsylvania conservatism. Since 1888, the county has only voted against the Republican nominee twice: in 1912, when the county backed Theodore Roosevelt by a little under 400 votes, and 1964, when the county backed Lyndon Johnson by 798 votes. Other than those moments, the county has been inelastic, so much so that my AP Government teacher even called my hometown “the most conservative town in one of the most conservative counties in the nation”. That wisdom is beginning to change though, and Democrats have begun to feel that they might have their best ever chance in the county.
What has caused this sudden change in feelings from Democrats so suddenly? One of the major factors is a slowly changing demographic in the county, helped by a growing and succeeding Lancaster city. An influx of immigrants and highly educated young people to places like Lancaster city, surrounding areas, and popular small towns like Litiz has allowed for a continued increase in registered Democrats for the past half-decade. There are some recent events that lead people to believe the county is truly becoming more competitive. A smaller Lancaster suburb called Manheim Township turned its school board blue in 2017 and threw out both its commissioners in a real upset in the most recent state election. Tom Wolf barely lost the county to Scott Wagner, keeping the margin under 5 points, and in PA’s 13th Senate district progressive Jess King beat incumbent Lloyd Smucker by .05 points, a small but shocking margin mapped by Ben Forstate below.
These details seem to show that Lancaster County could very well be competitive come 2020. While their recent results are good, the fact is that Lancaster County is not close to a swing county, at least not yet. Republicans still outnumber Democrats among registered voters by a solid 60,000 citizens, the GOP still has large control at smaller state offices (none of which were heavily challenged in 2018), and the bench is not there yet for Democrats to successfully run for elections. The GOP has strong homegrown incumbents in all local congressional seats in preparation for 2020 and none have drawn any dangerous challengers yet.
Senate District 13, which many Democrats now see as a must win if they are to gain the chamber in 2020, is held by a strong incumbent in Scott Martin who has local roots to the district having lived in the area since birth. One of the potential seats in the House that Democrats want to flip is held by Steven Mentzer, a lifetime resident of the area and another strong incumbent. While it might not be statistical, people in this county like politicians who have grown up from the area and the GOP has done a good job of recruiting and getting elected those candidates. Lancaster is growing, but the slant towards Republicans is still very much in effect. Democrats should not be hopeful that the county will suddenly flip to them in 2020, but they should still like the signs that it is becoming more competitive in the future. Both parties should begin paying attention to my home county as a future bellwether of where Pennsylvania is going.