In early April I visited the political battleground of suburban Philadelphia to interview a bunch of former Republicans who’d registered as Democrats to vote for Barack Obama in the April 22 primary. These interviews formed the basis of my latest Nation article, "Pennsylvania’s ‘Obamicans.’"
The story is largely set in Doylestown, one of Philly’s oldest and most picturesque exurbs. It’s a swing town in a swing area in a crucial swing state. As such, the political trends in Doylestown and the rest of Bucks County are pretty indicative of what’s going on throughout Pennsylvania and the rest of the country.
The article is subscription-only on our website (so become a subscriber!), but I’m posting an edited excerpt below for the loyal readers of this blog.
Doylestown, like much of Bucks County, used to be deeply, proudly, Republican. "In my youth, in central Bucks County, I grew up without knowing any Democrats," James Michener wrote in Report of the County Chairman, his account of volunteering for John F. Kennedy in 1960. "My mother thought there might be some on the edge of town, but she preferred not to speak of them." Things began to change in 1992, when the recession that year pushed Bucks County toward Bill Clinton. In the following years, as the GOP increasingly became identified with the religious right, the county voted for Democrats for President. Yet until recently, Republicans controlled all the levers of local government.
A surge of Democratic activism in the past few years has turned Doylestown, and much of the county, from red to purple–and quite possibly to blue. In 2003 Republicans dominated the borough council 9-0; now it’s 6-3 Democratic. After sending Republicans to Congress in every election since 1993, in 2006 Bucks County’s 8th Congressional District elected Democrat Patrick Murphy, a 34-year-old Iraq War vet. In January there were 21,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats in Bucks. By early April, thanks to a massive voter-registration drive, Democrats outnumbered Republicans for the first time since 1978, when Democrats briefly held sway after Watergate.
What’s happening in Bucks mirrors trends throughout Pennsylvania, where the state Democratic Party has added a remarkable 300,000 voters since January. Nearly half of these Democrats, according to the state board of elections, are new or previously unregistered voters lured by the excitement of the Clinton-Obama race. The other half are former Republicans and independents who switched to vote in the Democratic primary, mostly for Obama. Before the March 24 registration deadline (only registered Democrats may vote in the April 22 primary), the Obama campaign made an all-out effort to convert disaffected Republicans, otherwise known as "Obamicans."