• Kurt Knaus

Red or Blue? Election Results Cloud PA’s Color Palette


So is Pennsylvania a red state or a blue state? It depends on who you ask, or where you look.


The Keystone State lived up to its reputation as one of the premier battlegrounds in the 2020 presidential election, ultimately delivering a victory – and the White House – to Democrat Joe Biden against Donald Trump. The Republican incumbent carried Pennsylvania in a surprising upset four years ago.


Pennsylvania turned blue again (although not by much), despite a flurry of lawsuits by the Trump campaign and partisan political gamesmanship alleging widespread fraud where there is none – the decentralization of the state’s election administration locally protects against it, as do other safeguards.


The former vice president leads his GOP opponent by more than 80,000 votes with some ballots outstanding – counties have until Nov. 23 to certify election results. Trump carried Pennsylvania by a similar margin of about 44,000 votes in 2016.


On Capitol Hill, the state’s congressional delegation remains unchanged. Yet the races here produced a mixed bag for pundits trying to understand Pennsylvania’s color palette.


Republican incumbent Brian Fitzpatrick held on to his seat in the Philadelphia suburbs, which continue to swing left. Meanwhile, Democrat incumbent Conor Lamb won in southwestern Pennsylvania, where Trump loyalty has been on the rise.


In one of the nation’s most closely watched congressional matches – one that political observers (wrongly) predicted might swing the state delegation’s majority – incumbent U.S. Rep. Scott Perry beat his Democratic challenger, outgoing state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, by rallying York County’s red voters against the threat of a blue wave.


Where federal races produced a bit of blue mixed with neutral tones, state results were decidedly red – blood red in fact, solidifying Pennsylvania voters’ reputation for splitting their tickets on Election Day.


Before Nov. 3, Democrats boasted about their chances to potentially wrest control of the state House and chip away at Republicans’ majority in the Senate. Neither happened. Instead, Republicans knocked out the House Democratic leader and enlarged their majorities in both chambers. Both parties had record turnouts.


Gov. Tom Wolf invested heavily in those legislative races – and lost.


The governor bet big that winning back a majority in one chamber or the other, or taking back a good number of seats in either, might make his lame-duck session easier or at least enhance his negotiating power, enabling him to advance some stalled initiatives during the last two years of his second and final term.


The reality is that he faces a GOP legislative majority emboldened by the 3.3 million Trump voters who turned out to suppress Democrats’ potential rise. (While Wolf still has Biden’s 3.4 million voters behind him, Pennsylvania government isn’t ruled by the popular vote, but rather a few legislative leaders in a backroom.) Republicans don’t have Trump’s coattails to ride anymore, but that’s okay because they have his playbook.


Worse than the legislative losses for the Democrats are the surprising turns among row offices.


Incumbent Attorney General Josh Shapiro was the only Democrat to shine. Republican Timothy DeFoor beat Democrat Nina Ahmad to win an auditor general post vacated by DePasquale, making him the first person of color to be elected as a row officer. Stacy Garrity upset incumbent Democratic Treasurer Joe Torsella, becoming the first Republican to win the statewide office in two decades.

What looked to be a potentially hopeful 2021-22 session for Wolf and state legislative Democrats slowly devolved into a long nightmare as the votes were tallied in the days after Nov. 3. For Republicans, the 2022 gubernatorial campaign is officially underway, and Democrats’ influence in legislative reapportionment is diminished even further.


But that’s what makes Pennsylvania, well, Pennsylvania.


Politicos and pundits will parse the numbers for meaning, and there will be plenty of numbers to parse when the counts are final. Nationally, turnout hit a 50-year high, exceeding the record set by the 2008 presidential election of Barack Obama. Nearly seven million Pennsylvanians voted.


But one-time records don’t represent long-term trends. Every election is different.


In the meantime, Democrats will cheer rebuilding the blue wall nationally. Republicans will celebrate their red march statewide – all of which, no matter who you ask or where you look, makes Pennsylvania as a whole decisively … purple.

Kurt Knaus is the Managing Director in Ceisler Media's Harrisburg office.

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