PLAINS TOWNSHIP, Penn. — Sometimes, the best evidence that a candidate might overcome the odds and exceed expectations lies not in how the candidate speaks, but in how his voters speak.
If you want to understand insurgent Republican congressional candidate John Chrin, don’t listen to Chrin, but to Tony Brooks.
Brooks is a Republican who didn’t vote for President Trump in a county that was instrumental in flipping Pennsylvania from Democrat to Republican for the first time in nearly 30 years, so he’s not exactly all in for the populism that has invaded his party.
“I voted for Gary Johnson,” he says with a smile.
Brooks is also the first Republican to win a city-council seat in Wilkes-Barre in 32 years. “There is a 75-percent Democratic registration advantage in my district. I won by 68 percentage points,” he said of his win that included winning over a sizable amount of Trump voters.
The irony of his win containing part of that populist coalition formed around Trump is not lost on him.
Brooks has decided that he is going all in for Chrin, a Teamster-turned-Wall Street banker who is holding his own against a rising blue tide.
“I like this guy,” Brooks said. “What I like about him is that he has a proven track record on successful business, and that's what I like to see in a congressman is a businessman, as opposed to a lawyer. I think we have way too many lawyers in the House of Representatives and in the U.S. Senate, and I really like the success that he has done in business.”
Chrin’s challenge isn’t insurmountable. When the Democrat-controlled state Supreme Court redrew the congressional map in favor of Democrats, they may have made reelection harder for Democrat Rep. Matt Cartwright.
Cartwright went from a once-safe Democratic seat, where he made consistently progressive and liberal votes, to the new 8th Congressional District, which made his already-trending-Republican seat into one that could be persuaded by the right candidate and message to put a Republican in the House.
Chrin is making a pretty good case that he could be that guy.
On a crisp fall day, he spent the morning touring Atlantic Carbon (a coal company) and visiting a church school in Luzerne County that’s offering scholarships to its mostly-poor Hispanic families' children. He also met with folks like Brooks and the head of the Teamsters local, trying to earn their votes.
Chrin — who is fluent in Spanish (his wife was born in Honduras) — talked for over an hour with the CEO of the coal plant over their efforts to produce clean coal, headed toward the classrooms and talked with the headmaster of the school about the challenges he faces keeping the school open, and relived his days with the Teamsters with the head of the local at The Cafe, a local restaurant in Plains Township.
“I am very impressed with him, not just because of his business know-how, but also because he was a Teamster. He knows what it’s like to work with his hands,“ said David Baloga, president of the local Teamsters. Baloga’s local represents workers at the largest paperback book manufacturing company in the country, located right here in Luzerne County.
Unlike Brooks, Baloga is a big supporter of Trump and his policies: “The Trump economy has given our endangered pension two more years of life, which is unbelievable.”
“We have also been able to give people a raise, something we haven’t been able to do in 10 years, buy new equipment, and hire new people,” said Baloga. "And I like that he has local roots."
Chrin graduated from Easton Area High School and brags that he “grew up in the Lehigh Valley and went to Lehigh University, all the time working my way through college.”
As it currently stands, Republicans stand to lose anywhere between 17 and 30 House seats on Election Day.
Jeff Brauer, political science professor at Keystone College (which is located in the newly-formed 8th Congressional District), sees this race as a toss-up.
“Cartwright is a very proud progressive and liberal, and he has voted that way. The problem for him is that his district is trending more Republican, and that might not sit well with them,” said Brauer.
Brauer said all indications are that this is going to be a close competitive race all the way up until the end.
Chrin says he’s ready to give his best shot to tell voters why he is best prepared to represent the issues, values, and needs of the region.
“Once people hear my message and my solutions, I think they’re going to like it there than here, and I will earn their vote,” he said.
Keep an eye on this race during election night: Depending on how close the race is, both parties will have a lesson about what direction districts like this are moving in this country.