Pa.’s dramatic shift rightward is a warning sign about overreach

When Ken Miller changed his party registration from Democrat to Republican in September 2020, he said he wasn’t doing it for Donald Trump. He had not voted for Trump nor Hillary Clinton in 2016. Rather, he said, he was doing it for himself and his community after watching Democrats govern during the pandemic.

“I am tired of what I am seeing,” he said. Democrats appeared to ignore people like Miller, viewing his vote as replaceable by someone in their theoretical ascendant Democratic coalition of young people, women, intellectuals and nonwhite voters. But the thinkers in Washington may have been too clever by half.

Without working-class voters — white, black and Hispanic — one cannot form a coalition to win elections. This applies not just to the White House but also to congressional and state-level races. In fact, if Democrats abandon workers for the professional class, they won’t even be able to hold school boards and county row offices in many places.

In September 2020, Cambria County Democrats became a minority party without much fanfare. The Pennsylvania Department of State registration numbers showed Republicans with 37,951 registrations and Democrats with just 37,826. Since that milestone, the bleeding has continued, with Democrats decreasing by nearly 3,000 voters to 35,037, while Republicans have risen to 41,128.

Just 14 years ago, Barack Obama won this county over John McCain. Four years later, Mitt Romney absolutely walloped Obama by 18 points, but the reality was that the Obama Democrats lost the county more than Romney won it. A major contributor was the escalating Democratic cry of “racist!” as a replacement for making reasoned arguments about policy — something that took off in earnest around 2010. This was one of the factors prompting many 2008 Obama voters here, even those with familial Democratic pedigree going back to President Franklin Roosevelt, to switch sides. In both the 2020 and 2021 statewide elections, voters overwhelmingly favored Republicans in down-ballot races.

The biggest problem is that both Washington Democrats and the press seem to have no idea who comprises the Democrats’ base anymore. 

They are on the wrong side with voters who would traditionally consider them for a state legislative race, U.S. Senate race or congressional race. Voters are angry at Democrats about inflation; gas prices; the border and how the problem eventually hits their neighborhoods and suburbs in the form of fentanyl and methamphetamine addictions; the out-of-control crime; education control and the lingering impressions after the chaotic and deadly withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Yet to this day, their messages are about climate change and Trump. It’s as though they have never left Washington to see what is really upsetting voters.

Cambria County isn’t the only Pennsylvania county where Republicans are gaining registered voters. All across the state, including in suburban Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Republicans are signing up former Democratic voters like Miller at four times the rate Democrats are making the reverse conversion.

 Winning and losing in politics is generally about one thing: overreach.

When the Democrats took power in January of 2021, they believed they had won because everyone loved them again. They took this as a license to do whatever they wanted, and they behaved that way with everything they did. They put climate change into everything, racialized every issue they possibly could, and strove for a fundamental transformation of the country. When it came to such concerns as the southern border and Afghanistan, their answer was to ignore the problem.

This delusion is hurtling Democrats toward a painful defeat. But any Republican victory will be short-lived in places like Cambria County if they win and then make the same mistake.

Salena Zito is a staff reporter and columnist for the Washington Examiner.