York Democrats place hope in new candidates, voter turnout

York County Democratic Party Chairman Chad Baker speaks during the 2018 State of the County Committee Breakfast at Wisehaven Event Center in Windsor Township, Saturday, April 7, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Democrats from across York County gathered for the party's annual state of the county committee breakfast to meet their candidates for the first time.

"They hear them, they see them on social media, but they don't get to see them up close and personal," said party chairman Chad Baker.

Many candidates covered issues such as the importance of public schools, prison and criminal justice reform, higher minimum wages, bipartisan collaboration, support of unions, clean energy sources and health care.

And after redistricting in February, York County was introduced to candidates in its new 10th and 11th Congressional districts.

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Alan Howie, candidate for the 10th Congressional District, said one thing he's focusing on in his campaign is economic justice.

"Lower taxes for the wealthy and lower wages for hardworking Americans is creating this imbalance," he said. "The same sort of imbalance that led both to the Great Depression and Great Recession."

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Fellow 10th District candidate George Scott championed safe public schools, affordable and accessible health care, and good jobs with living wages, because he said those are three things that affect every person.

Jess King, the only Democratic candidate running in the 11th Congressional District, said she will be working for 100 percent renewable energy by the year 2050.

"When you're actually fighting for something and not just against something, it motivates people to show up," she said.

Voter turnout: The Democratic Party of York County held the Gov.Tom Wolf State of the County Committee Breakfast on Saturday, April 7 — its seventh year, but the first bearing the governor's name.

Baker says the most important thing the party has to focus on is getting voters to the polls.

"The biggest thing pressing the Democratic Party here in York County is getting voter turnout," he said, noting that over the last few years it's stayed relatively the same for Democrats while turnout on the Republican side has grown.

"In all of the districts, with the exception of the 95th (state House), the voter registration favors Republicans, so turnout becomes a critical aspect of our game plan," he said.

State of the county: York County Economic Alliance President and CEO Kevin Schreiber emceed the committee breakfast, held at the Wisehaven Event Center, 2985 East Prospect Road, in Windsor Township, and gave a quick update on the county's economic state.

Unemployment is below the state average, and the county continues to boast high-paying manufacturing jobs at an average salary of $56,000. Though York County is lagging in technology jobs, more than 5,000 jobs were created in the county in the past five years, and $135 million was invested in 2017 alone, he said.

More:Community focus in York's State of the County address

"We do have an incredible community, and an incredible commonwealth, and we in York County have so much to be proud of," he said.

Candidates: All Democratic candidates on the ballot for the May 15 primary election were represented Saturday.

Lieutenant governor candidate John Fetterman is originally from York County and helped transform the struggling community of Braddock, Allegheny County, as a four-term mayor, while fellow candidate Nina Ahmad brought her expertise as a scientist to the race.

Some lieutenant governor candidates also represented election firsts, such as Ray Sosa, the first Latino to be on the ballot for lieutenant governor, and Kathi Cozzone, a former Chester County commissioner who is the only woman in the race to have been previously elected to the executive branch.

State House of Representatives candidate Sarah Hammond, running for the 169th District, would be the youngest elected female candidate in state history if she won the seat. She will turn 25 shortly before the election.

More:10th District candidates to speak at climate group forum

Democratic Party: Another goal of the breakfast, Baker said, was to be transparent about where the party is and what kind of work is ahead for the election year but also to energize members by celebrating successes.

He talked about last year's low number of down-ticket candidates.

"Where we failed was to run candidates in many of the township and borough races as well as the local school boards," he said.

Where the party saw success was in the large number of candidates on the ballot this year, as well as growth in the number of young people and women running for office.

"Today more women are running for office at the national and state level than ever before," Baker said, and four of the seven House candidates running in York County are under 40.

The party also sees strong support throughout the county through clubs such as the York County Federation of Democratic Women, which is the largest Democratic club in the commonwealth.

Redistricting: Planning campaigns around new district lines has not been without its challenges.

On both sides of the ticket, Baker said, those in the 10th District picked up most of Dauphin County, which means there's new, unfamiliar territory to learn.

And the 11th District, which used to be primarily Lancaster County, incorporated the southern part of York County, which is "very different than a lot of sections of Lancaster," he said.

Candidates also had to adjust their campaigns very quickly to prepare for a May primary, given that districts changed in February.

However, those in the 10th District are still in the northern part of the county, so they have that advantage.

More than anything, Baker said, it's about making sure candidates have time to talk to voters, and more work on the party level is needed as the party switches the focus from one district to two.

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Optimistic: But Baker is still optimistic that this could be the Democrats' year, not only because of improved district lines but also because of strong candidates — especially in the congressional races, he said.

"I think there's a definite level of unhappiness with the incumbents that are currently in Harrisburg and Washington, and that dissatisfaction, I think, is gonna lend to favorable outcomes for a number of our candidates," he said.