Dems see hope in local races

Democrats may not have swept into local power here as they did in much of the country Tuesday, but supporters have spotted hopeful signs even in deep-red central Pennsylvania.

Republicans in Virginia were shocked by the scale of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam’s win, and Democratic candidates for the state Legislature approached a majority with some recounts still expected. Democrats scored victories in other states as well, including in many Pennsylvania municipal races, as voters opposed to President Donald Trump turned out in large numbers.

The party didn’t shock observers in Blair County last week — Democratic City Council hopeful Natalie Barlick-Reed lost out to a slate of Republicans and Hollidaysburg mayoral candidate David B. Bailey fell short — but its activists built an active base that could carry over to the next election, Blair County Democratic Chairwoman Gillian Kratzer said.

“What’s been really hopeful for me is that we had more volunteers this year than I’ve seen in previous municipal-year elections,” Kratzer said. “We were able to cover all seven of Hollidaysburg’s wards with volunteers doing either door-knocking or phone calls, which is just really exciting for us.”

Municipal elections typically don’t draw massive turnout. But a divided electorate and strong anti-Trump attitudes have spurred protests and activist movements across the country.

Many of those activists are ready for congressional and state elections next year, Kratzer said.

“It’s a great starting point for moving forward and building,” she said. “People that were involved this year are already excited about being involved in the upcoming election cycle.”

Democrats pulled off a few surprises in the region. In Huntingdon, challenger David Wessels beat GOP mayor Dee Dee Brown with 56 percent of the vote.

“Just like this election was not won by one vote alone, it will take the hands of many to accomplish our goals and reach our dreams,” Wessels wrote in an online post following the election.

State and national Democrats have taken note of the change: On Thursday, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a memo noting two more Pennsylvania House districts would be targeted next year. The committee, which had already named several GOP-held districts to be flipped, added two open seats in the state’s eastern half.

District lawsuit

could impact 2018

Democrats’ 2018 efforts could get another boost after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed to fast-track a major gerrymandering case this year.

The case, once set to be delayed, is now set for a Commonwealth Court decision and could have a clear effect on next year’s race. Voting rights groups have long pointed to Pennsylvania as one of the country’s most egregiously gerrymandered states, with bizarrely shaped legislative districts pulling together disparate voting blocs.

The lawsuit, filed by the League of Women Voters and individual voters in each of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional districts, claims Republicans lawmakers intentionally drew electoral maps to give themselves continual control over the state.

The growing nationwide battles over gerrymandering gain a particular importance before the U.S. Census, which is carried out every 10 years. A party that controls electoral mapmaking after a census updates population figures gets an edge on new districts, allowing it to extend control and continue the cycle.

State to list

anti-casino towns

While some in Altoona show interest in a local casino, it appears some Pennsylvania municipalities aren’t excited about the prospect of “mini-casinos” with hundreds of slot machines and up to 40 game tables.

State gaming officials said they’re set to publish an online list this week of municipal governments that have turned down satellite casinos. The 10 smaller casinos, allowed under the state’s sweeping new gaming law, would be owned by existing larger ones and would have to be established at least 25 miles from existing competitors.

The Altoona area, far from any current casinos, could be a prime spot for a satellite. But municipal officials across the state have already expressed concerns about the prospect, despite the possible tax revenue it could bring.

A small handful of municipalities in eastern Pennsylvania have banned the casinos or are set to, the Allentown Morning Call reported last week. Mayors in larger cities like Lancaster have expressed skepticism, although that wouldn’t affect casino plans in surrounding suburbs.

Under the new law, municipal governments have until Dec. 31 to ban the businesses and inform the Gaming Control Board. The first satellite casino license is set to be auctioned by Jan. 16.

In other news:

n Readers may have felt a brush with local celebrity in Saturday’s Altoona Mirror. The Celebrity Cipher, set to be answered Monday, featured a quote from a familiar name in politics.

Ryan Brown can be reached by email at rbrown@