Pennsylvania’s Primary Election Results
The outcomes tell us what to expect for the midterm elections and beyond
Election results in Pennsylvania have offered a preview of coming attractions in America’s national politics in previous years.
The state’s primary elections this past Tuesday offer five indicators about what to watch for in the general elections this November and beyond.
1. Trumpism still rules the GOP.
Donald Trump continues to cast a long shadow in the Republican Party, which continues to absorb his style of politics and stances on key issues. In Pennsylvania’s primary, the top two contenders for governor and U.S. Senate sought Trump’s backing and positioned themselves in ways that sought to appeal to his supporters.
That makes some political sense given the metamorphosis of the GOP’s base towards more extremism that flirts with QAnon conspiracies. About 4 in 5 Republican voters in key battleground states this spring gave Trump favorable ratings. These dynamics raise broader questions about what kind of party the GOP has become and where it is heading. Doubts about the direction of the party are why some Pennsylvania Republicans are panicking and have already defected to support the Democratic candidate for governor.
Thus far this primary season across the nation, Trump has had mixed success in picking candidates, but more and more GOP candidates are picking Trump and his style of politics.
2. Democrats face diverse trends pulling them in different directions.
The big headline on the Democratic side from Tuesday night was the sweeping victory Lt. Governor John Fetterman had over his primary opponents, winning 59-26%, a whopping margin of 33 percent, over Congressman Conor Lamb. Fetterman projects an anti-establishment vibe and contrasts himself to the conventional, more cautious politicians who position themselves closer to the center on issues and image. Fetterman has the potential to jiu-jitsu the typical narrative about Democrats being elitist liberals who are out-of-touch with ordinary Americans.
Yet at the same time, Democrats picked a candidate for governor who looks and sounds like a more conventional politician, Josh Shapiro, who ran unopposed in the primary. Shapiro casts an establishment vibe in contrast to his Republican opponent, Doug Mastriano, a state senator who trounced another Trumpist Republican Lou Barletta, a former mayor, by more than 24 points.
Down ballot, the Democrats who won primaries for Congress and state house were all over the map on the issues, and it’s hard to point to a consistent theme or story that unifies the party in a national environment where the political mood is sour and the winds are blowing in the GOP’s direction.
3. The battle for working class voters will be central in Pennsylvania’s Senate contest.
The winner of this race this fall could determine which party has overall control of the U.S. Senate starting in 2023. Ruy Teixeira points out that working class voters are an important bloc in the Keystone State’s electorate: “Democrats’ fate in Pennsylvania in 2022 depends heavily on holding their modest gains among white working class voters and stopping the bleeding among nonwhite working class voters.”
John Fetterman’s profile and persona gives him an advantage over his opponent this fall on this front. No matter whether Dr. Mehmet Oz or David McCormick wins after a likely recount due to the razor thin margins, Fetterman will face a multimillionaire with strong Trumpist tendencies (both men also face “carpetbagger” charges, too, because they haven’t lived in the state for long periods of time recently). That gives Fetterman the chance to broaden and deepen his support with working class voters across the state as he works to increase his appeal and support with black voters, a key bloc that was cool to Fetterman in the primary.
4. Beware challenges to electoral legitimacy in 2022 and 2024.
Many of the Republicans on the ballot in Pennsylvania were defined by their support for the Big Lie that President Joe Biden wasn’t legitimately elected in 2020, and some were even in Washington D.C. during the January 6 violent attack on Congress.
The sore loser virus has continued to infect the GOP nationwide, which has introduced voter suppression laws in dozens of states. Challenges to the credibility of elections could come into play if midterm elections are close. (Interestingly, despite the close results in the GOP Senate primary, there hasn’t yet been a serious “stop the steal” effort inside of this GOP standoff in the Senate race – no one is questioning the legitimacy of the mail-in ballots yet. Trump did, however, encourage his endorsed candidate Oz to just declare victory).
Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor, has been a vocal member of the “stop the steal” chorus, and that presents a possible risk for America’s elections overall in 2024 – the chance that Mastriano might play games with the election results if a Democrat wins the popular vote for president in 2024. Ross Douthat made clear the implications of Mastriano’s victory last night in Pennsylvania: “a Republican nominee for governor who cannot be trusted to carry out his constitutional duties should the presidential election be close in 2024.”
5. Mind the down ballot races!
Pennsylvania now has 17 Congressional districts, a loss of one seat due to redistricting after the most recent census, and some of those races will affect the balance of power in the U.S. House. Equally interesting is what happens in the state house, particularly with the abortion debate likely to heat up after the Supreme Court announces its ruling in a key case later this year.
The Republican Party has had control of both State houses for more than a decade – and Democrats have not invested sufficient time and energy down ballot in the state. This Tuesday’s primary results included nearly a dozen incumbent state lawmakers getting defeated by challengers, a sign of ferment against establishment politicians in both parties.
But the Democratic Party hasn’t yet figured out the pathway to success at the state house level for years, which makes the spotlight on the race for government between the Democrat Josh Shapiro, who has vowed to veto restrictions on abortion, and his opponent Doug Mastriano, who has proposed a total ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.
Pennsylvania is a swing state that has a record of producing surprising election results that don’t fit into the established categories used to analyze politics. Keep an eye on what happens in the Keystone State over the next six months as the general elections heat up for some clues about what might come in 2024.