Republicans squandered a good opportunity to win
In Pennsylvania we have learnt that candidates matter. Of the two big races on the midterm ballot — for governor and for senator — only one of the four candidates represented the consensus choice of his party and campaigned as a big-tent centrist: Democrat Josh Shapiro, who won easily over his Republican opponent, Doug Mastriano.
Shapiro cleared the primary field early and built on a long record of officeholding as a reasonable, middle-of-the-road Democrat. He came to the race with a record of keeping spending and taxation under control in his time as county commissioner (a local executive office) and of good relations with the police, many of whom endorsed him in his reelection as state Attorney General two years ago.
From there, Shapiro moved even more to the centre by endorsing a school choice measure pending in the legislature, a departure for the candidate who had been the favourite of teachers’ unions for years. It was probably a smart shift, given the backlash against the failures of the public school system during the Covid-19 lockdowns.
In contrast, the Republican nominee, Mastriano, emerged from a bruising primary and failed to unite his party. His campaign was anaemic, his relations with the press were hostile even for a Trump-backed Republican, and his political positions were extreme enough — especially on the issue of whether the 2020 election was stolen — to give many more moderate Republicans reason to vote against him. It all added up to what looks to be, when the votes are all counted, a ten-percentage-point win for Shapiro.
In the Senate race, neither Democrat John Fetterman nor Republican Mehmet Oz had Shapiro’s level of support, and the race had tightened significantly before Fetterman was declared the winner last night. Oz, while moderate and tempered in his pronouncements, never fully gained the trust of a divided Republican party. Fetterman, though he was the clear winner of the Democratic primary, staked out positions so far to the Left on crime and spending that he alienated the same moderate voters who embraced Shapiro.
Had the “red wave” turned out to be as massive as Republicans hoped, it might have carried mediocre contenders over the finish line. But in a more normal than expected electoral environment, the state party apparatus must shoulder the blame for not taking the lead in finding strong consensus candidates and helping them to win their primaries.
Other big states like Florida and Ohio tallied their ballots quickly and efficiently, while the Keystone State was slower to announce Fetterman the winner. Nevertheless, the capture of a Republican-held Senate seat bodes promisingly for the Democrats’ chances of retaining the chamber.