America has undergone several periods where the party system changed dramatically. Democrats used to dominate the rural Solid South, while Northern cities were bastions of Republican strength, but the opposite is now true. The parties have at various times won House races throughout the country over the course of more than 150 years, but one thing has remained constant: No Democrat has ever won a House seat based in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, the only district in the country where that still holds true.
The district in question takes shape today as the 16th District, shown above. It is mostly comprised of solidly Republican Lancaster County, but Republicans also gerrymandered it to scoop up dark-blue Reading and other pockets of Democratic strength to protect Republicans in neighboring seats. This seat was open in 2016, and Democrat Christina Hartman lost 54-43 to Republican Rep. Lloyd Smucker while Trump carried it 51-44. However, Hartman raised considerable funds and is running for a rematch in 2018, when she hopes to make history by flipping this seat.
Indeed, it would be truly historic if Hartman or any other Democrat prevails here. According to historic district maps, Lancaster County has anchored its own congressional district since the 1840s round of redistricting, and before that it comprised a large chunk of a three-member seat that also included Chester and Delaware counties. Although it wasn’t always numbered the 16th District, Republicans have continuously held the Lancaster-based seat since the 1856 elections, when incumbent Rep. Anthony Roberts was elected as a member of the nascent party.
Prior to 1856, the Lancaster County-based district had elected Whigs since 1840, when it was a multi-member seat. That district also elected a three-member slate of representatives of the Anti-Masonic Party from 1832 to 1840, a short-lived party that sprung up to oppose Freemasonry and whose members mostly folded into the Whigs afterward. Indeed, the last time a Lancaster County congressional district elected a member of a party that didn’t serve as a forerunner to the GOP was in 1830. That year, Rep. Joshua Evans, Jr. was re-elected as a member of the “Jacksonian” party, since the Democratic Party wasn’t technically contesting races in Pennsylvania.
This same congressional district later elected Whig-turned-Republican Thaddeus Stevens, who was a key leader of the Radical Republicans during Reconstruction. It previously elected future Democratic President James Buchanan from 1820 to 1828 as a Federalist and then as a Jacksonian.
Regardless of whether or not one counts the Jacksonians as proto-Democrats, no other district even comes close in terms of its streak of not electing a Democrat. The runner-up is eastern Tennessee’s 2nd District, which has been centered around Knox County for generations. That seat has elected Republicans continuously since only 1866, and it last elected a Democrat in 1852, with the intervening years seeing the election of the Know-Nothing Party instead, another bloc whose members largely folded into the new Republican Party shortly before the Civil War.
Pennsylvania’s current 16th District still decidedly leans toward Republicans, and Smucker is likely favored to win a second term. However, this current district did vote for Obama for president by 50-49 back in 2008, and it could be winnable if 2018 turns into a Democratic wave year. If Hartman pulls off the upset, she’ll have overcome more than 186 years of bad luck for Democrats in Lancaster County.