Larry Ceisler’s Top Seven Election Takeaways
It was a surprising night in Pennsylvania and across the country—with potentially more surprises yet to come.
It’s easy to Monday-morning quarterback. But as we look back on 2022’s historic midterm elections and the anticipated red wave that never materialized, it’s worth pausing for a moment to understand what this cycle means for the last couple years—and especially for the next couple years.
Fetterman choosing to debate was maybe the most brilliant political decision of this cycle.
In the end, I was surprised that John Fetterman won his Senate race as handily as he did. Most people thought his debate performance was pretty poor. But in retrospect it may have been a brilliant strategy. Debates don’t tend to have a huge impact, and how you viewed the debate depended on how you viewed the candidates. If you were already inclined to like Fetterman, you think it’s a courageous move in which he put his whole self on the line. And if you didn’t like him, you thought he wasn’t cognitively able to serve as a senator. Fetterman—like many politicians, really—becomes a vessel for what people want. I admire Fetterman’s campaign team a lot: No staff has ever run a campaign in such unique and challenging circumstances.
No race happens in a vacuum.
I always thought if Shapiro could win by seven to eight points, he’d carry Fetterman over the line with him. Oz was up against a Shapiro landslide, and he was stuck with a running mate in Doug Mastriano who weighed down his whole candidacy. The Trump endorsement might have helped Oz get the nomination, but it didn’t help him in the general, and he was never able to climb out of the hole that all of David McCormick’s negative primary campaigning put him in.
Josh Shapiro: Perfect campaign.
It was the most perfect run in Pennsylvania since Arlen Specter defeated Lynn Yeakel 30 years ago. Josh was perfect as a candidate, and his team was perfect. It’s tough for a campaign team, mostly made up of younger people, to stay focused and not go rogue. Every element of that campaign—from political to press to finance to field—reflected Josh’s focus and coolness, and I think that’s how he’ll govern. They used to say “no-drama Obama”—that’s Josh. Mastriano was a candidate from another planet, so Shapiro’s team could have done some dumb things, but I give great kudos to his staff.
Republicans overplayed their hand.
Republicans successfully identified issues—and nobody underestimates what happening in the economy—but I don’t think the public ever fully blamed Democrats for inflation, the price of gas or crime. Susan Wild (Lehigh Valley), Matt Cartwright (Monroe/Luzerne County) and Chris Deluzio (Beaver/Allegheny County; Conor Lamb’s old seat) all won, and I don’t think anyone thought all three would pull through. That’s where Democrats’ belief in democracy and in protecting abortion rights carried the day, and where they successfully pushed back against election denialism.
Democrats won the state House—which is a game-changer for Shapiro.
Congrats to the House Democrats who knew how to handle redistricting. I thought they could win back the House within the decade, but I never thought it could happen this year. This slams the door on Harrisburg Republicans who have been abusing the constitutional amendment process. In recent years, Republicans—who have been frustrated by Gov. Wolf’s frequent vetoes of their legislation—have taken to passing constitutional amendments instead, which aren’t subject to the governor’s veto. It’s a total abuse of the legislative process by attempting an end-run around the governor’s traditional veto power, and it’s their way of turning Pennsylvania into a referendum state … but it’s effective. With the House now in Democratic control, Shapiro’s veto can stay a veto. The Democrats won’t be able to get legislation through the Senate, but they can at least stop bad things from happening—like we’ve seen with them playing politics with the Krasner impeachment.
The next big question: Will Biden run?
He feels, rightly or wrongly, he’s the only Democrat who can defeat Donald Trump. And Donald Trump had a bad election night. If Trump is diminished as a potential GOP nominee in 2024, and Ron DeSantis is ascendant, Biden is less likely to run. That said, the Democrats are going to lose the U.S. House, and the only bills that will get to Biden’s desk are things that are very bipartisan. I think for the next two years he’ll look at what’s going on in the world, in Ukraine and China and elsewhere, and concentrate on what he can accomplish. He’s had a very productive two years so far, and that’s more than some presidents get.
Neither Democrats nor Republicans have figured out who they are—or who they need to be next.
Republicans have to take a good look in the mirror as they move toward the next set of elections. Not that any candidate would have beaten Josh, but the Mastriano nomination was truly a lost opportunity that caused down-ballot damage.
For Democrats, the split between progressives and centrists was far from resolved—just look at the two Democrats who won statewide in Pennsylvania. The good thing for Democrats is that everyone rowed in the same direction. But that divide will play out immediately in next year’s mayor’s and City Council races. Stay tuned, because things could get exciting.
Larry Ceisler is founder of Ceisler Media and Issue Advocacy.