PA Primary Election Insights from Larry Ceisler
Following the 2022 Pennsylvania Primary, the Ceisler Media founder shares his thoughts on how things could shape up for November.
Q: The primary races each had a different dynamic, but is there a common message among them?
LC: Well, the Fetterman and Mastriano victories were the product of an angry electorate who just want to put their finger in the eye of what they consider the establishment. We saw that, as well, with several influential incumbent Republican state legislators losing their seats. The voters are mad — that can’t be underestimated. And electability did not seem to be an issue voters considered in their thought process.
It may be today that Democrats are happy Mastriano won [the GOP nomination for governor] and Republicans are eager to run against Fetterman [the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate]. But as I always say, be careful what you wish for. Anything can happen.
Q: Looking at that Senate race, is John Fetterman’s next challenge reassuring people that he’s healthy enough for the job?
LC: Absolutely. People are asking why it took so long to report his health issues, which are obviously more serious than he initially said. He’s going to be criticized for a lack of transparency. Certainly, many people lead normal lives with atrial fibrillation and a pacemaker. But Fetterman needs to show he’s healthy enough to get out there and campaign.
Q: As we speak the day after the primary, the Republican Senate race is still undecided.
LC: Yes, it appears that we won’t know who won for several days. There are still uncounted mail-ins out there — largely because the Republican Legislature has refused to allow counties to open and count those ballots early. The determination and recount will not take that long, but there could be legal challenges that extend the process.
So [Mehmet] Oz is currently ahead, but that may not hold through the mail-ins. And if that happens, will Trump and others say this election was stolen? The problem in the process is the same thing we went through in 2020 — and may go through again.
Q: Candidates often change their message between the party primary and the general election. What do you expect to see here?
LC: Fetterman has already started to pivot from progressive to populist. He’s going for the Bernie Sanders approach that he can reach the disaffected Democrats and independents who voted for Trump, and then marry them to the solid blue bases in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the suburbs. And while turnout appears to have been low Tuesday, Fetterman carried Philadelphia over Malcolm Kenyatta, who is from the city, and Conor Lamb, who was endorsed by the Democratic City Committee.
But the Republicans will have a lot of money coming in to paint him as a dangerous socialist who’s out of touch. And that’s a challenge for Fetterman.
Q: And how will David McCormick or Oz change their approach?
LC: Whichever Republican wins in the end, I expect him to put the guns back in his locker and pivot to a dollars and cents argument — in other words, run against President Joe Biden, which is smart. Obviously, either will run as a conservative, but my guess is the hyper-partisan pro-life, pro-gun, anti-transgender rhetoric will go by the wayside. That will make them stronger in the suburbs.
Q: Let’s turn to the governor’s race. A lot of Republicans were said to be fearful Pa. Sen. Doug Mastriano would win the primary, that he’s unelectable in November and could hurt them down ballot.
LC: Mastriano’s job now is to get Republicans to come home and vote for him, but he doesn’t make it easy. He’s so far out there in his conspiracy theories. He’s been handed winnable talking points — high gas prices, the handling of COVID — but he’ll likely run right through the tape and talk about crazy things and make people uncomfortable. I don’t expect a pivot from this guy. He knows he has already beaten powerful interests to get here, so it seems he’ll stay consistent.
Q: The state Supreme Court recently granted an emergency motion allowing Act 77 — the historic bi-partisan election reform bill from 2019 — to stay in effect for now. But the GOP now seems unhappy about that.
LC: That’s the legislation many Republicans and Trump complain about. It was the Republican Legislature that got new voting machines in the counties in exchange for mail-in, no-excuse voting and getting rid of straight-party voting in Pennsylvania. Today a lot of GOP members of Congress, the state Senate and House are thanking God we don’t have straight-party voting because it will limit damage that Mastriano could wreak with down-ballot races. I think you’ll see Republican candidates running away from him in parts of the state where they face competitive elections. They’re not going to want to be associated with him.
Q: Finally, Josh Shapiro ran unopposed to be the Democratic nominee for governor. How does he run against Mastriano?
LC: His message will be that he’s running against an extremist who is an election denier, who was at the Capitol on Jan. 6, who would ban abortion without exceptions, who would restrict the right to vote. Josh is tailor-made for this type of challenge because he’s such a focused candidate who won’t take his foot off the pedal. Plus, he has a very strong record to run on that is bipartisan in its appeal.
Fetterman and Shapiro are as different as night and day, but they’ll depend on each other to reach other branches of the electorate. Fetterman has to hope the suburban voters Josh brings out also vote for him. And that’s a challenge because Oz and McCormick are both attractive candidates in the suburbs.
But as I said, anything can happen. November is still a long way off.
Larry Ceisler is the Founder of Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy