Jim Kenney could re-elect Donald J. Trump.
That seems incredibly far-fetched, but some Democrats think it is possible, even while violently hating the idea.
Here’s how the theory goes:
Pennsylvania is a purple state, largely conservative except for Greater Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and State College. To win, a statewide candidate must rack up a huge lead in vote-rich Philly and its suburbs.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton failed to carry Pennsylvania and that cost her the election. There are other scenarios to be sure, but follow this one.
In the last presidential election, Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,292 votes out of more than 6 million cast, a razor thin margin of 0.72%, the smallest in a presidential election in 176 years, since William Henry Harrison defeated Martin Van Buren by just 0.12% in 1840. It was the first time a Clinton had lost a Pennsylvania election.
Democrats have a 7-1 voter registration edge in Philadelphia. Turnout in 2016 was 64% of registered voters, and when Mayor Kenney said the turnout was great, he was called a liar by Philadelphia magazine, usually securely attached to his butt.
That turnout was 4 points lower than the 68 percent who showed up in 2008, and 2 points lower than the 66 percent who came out in 2012.
The 2008 race was historic — the election of our first Black president, Barack Obama. There were lines at the polls and enthusiasm that Clinton simply could not duplicate in 2016.
Her 2016 Philadelphia vote total was 584,025 —4,000 less than Obama in 2012. Trump got 108,748. Her poor showing was despite Democrats’ frenzied attempts to portray Trump as the devil.
The loss could be even greater this time.
Why? Philadelphians hate Jim Kenney, especially South Philadelphians, who may turn their wrath against all Democrats.
Why do they hate Jim Kenney?
Oh, let’s see: He’s trying to remove a statue of Christopher Columbus from South Philly’s Marconi Park; he cowardly removed the Frank Rizzo statue in the dead of the night; he tried to sneak a so-called “safe injection site” into South Philly; garbage is piling up faster than the murder rate; the highly unpopular soda tax; homeless trespassers thumb their noses at his threats to remove them from the Parkway.
To be fair, not everyone hates Jim Kenney for these actions and inactions. Most of these issues flow from his progressive ideals and progressives have made gains in South Philly that would have been unthinkable a decade ago.
Former WHYY reporter Elizabeth Fiedler won a state rep seat from a machine candidate a few years ago, and earlier this year incumbent state Sen. Larry Farnese, himself a progressive, was thumped by more progressive insurgent Nikil Saval.
With that said, many traditional Democrats are still around, and there are enough of them to upset the apple cart.
One Democratic leader, a Biden backer, told me he heaved a sigh of relief when Kenney endorsed Elizabeth Warren.
“I didn’t want Kenney to endorse Biden; everyone hates him,” the politico said, with possible exaggeration. “Democrats want to distance themselves from him.”
A dedicated Democratic friend of mine has volunteered to make calls to registered Democrats in South Philly. While she hasn’t spoken to many, she has been shocked to find worrisome numbers who tell her they will vote for Trump, or at least stay home.
She surmises they are sending a message to Kenney.
I checked with some of my former South Philly neighbors, who confirm Kenney’s stock is low, even among those who voted for him — twice.
There is no doubt Philly will vote for Biden in large numbers. But if voters are turned off the Democratic Party because of Kenney, and the numbers drop below what Clinton got, Trump could again win the state — and re-election.
It may be far-fetched, but it is possible.