The author is with Firehouse Strategies
A blue wave drowned the Keystone State on Nov. 8, flipping contested state House and Senate districts, delivering every tossup congressional seat and elevating Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro to the governor’s office in one of the largest statewide landslides in the country, complemented by a decisive win for Lt. Gov. John Fetterman in the U.S. Senate race.
A blue wave of this magnitude in a swing state is incredibly rare. Many factors contributed, but the most significant was the Trump effect, which loomed large in the minds of Pennsylvania voters.
Everything went according to plan for Attorney General Shapiro. Long considered the frontrunner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, Mr. Shapiro began building the ground game for his campaign shortly after winning election to his second term as attorney general in 2020. When he finally announced his candidacy for governor last fall, statewide leaders across the commonwealth were eager to endorse him, with no other Democrat daring to oppose him in the primary.
On the Republican side, state Sen. Doug Mastriano’s battle for the governor’s mansion was far less smooth. Sen. Mastriano gained statewide recognition for his early and robust embrace of 2020 election denialism and attendance at the Jan. 6 riot, which remained a consistent theme throughout his primary and general election campaign. This helped win him the coveted endorsement of former President Donald Trump.
Sen. Mastriano’s far-right positioning on issues such as abortion, COVID-19 and the 2020 election energized the state’s GOP base, elevating him over more moderate candidates and propelling him to the nomination.
Many Republican insiders worried about Sen. Mastriano’s electability come November, when moderate and independent voters would play the deciding role. Attorney General Shapiro’s campaign recognized this too, spending big on TV ads highlighting Sen. Mastriano’s close relationship with Mr. Trump — ads that helped Sen. Mastriano win his primary.
As the general election campaign took off over the summer, Mr. Shapiro maintained a steady polling advantage that only widened as Election Day closed in. Mr. Shapiro’s campaign rolled out multiple rounds of endorsements from well-known Republicans in Pennsylvania, while outraising and outspending Mr. Mastriano’s campaign almost 10 to 1.
By continuously tying Mr. Mastriano to Mr. Trump, backed with the resources to push this message around the state, Mr. Shapiro ran away with the race before it even began. His decisive edge at the top of the ballot had a profound effect on other races throughout the commonwealth.
In the U.S. Senate race, Lt. Gov. Fetterman bested Dr. Mehmet Oz, also Trump-endorsed, by less than half of the margin of Attorney General Shapiro’s win. Dr. Oz’s comparatively better performance than Mr. Mastriano owes to several factors, but it’s no coincidence that Dr. Oz distanced himself from Mr. Mastriano, from election denialism and when possible, from Mr. Trump himself.
Many Republican strategists maintain that Dave McCormick — the more moderate candidate, a wealthy businessman and veteran from Pennsylvania who lost to Dr. Oz in the primary by less than 1% — would have beaten Lt. Gov. Fetterman. Mr. McCormick had gained a slight polling lead over Dr. Oz in the primary, until Mr. Trump’s endorsement in the campaign’s final month pulled Dr. Oz over the finish line.
While the Trump effect had a clear impact on the gubernatorial and Senate campaigns, it also influenced key tossup races around the state.
Republican Jeremy Schaffer, who ran in the newly drawn and vacant 17th Congressional District, lost to Democrat Chris Deluzio by over 6 points in a race widely considered a bellwether for the 2022 midterms. Democratic congressman Matt Cartwright fended off his Trump-endorsed challenger, Jim Bognet, to win the tossup 8th Congressional District. And Democrat Susan Wild, an incumbent congresswoman considered the state’s most vulnerable, defeated her Trump-endorsed challenger, Lisa Scheller.
Not a single statewide or congressional Democrat lost in Pennsylvania on Nov. 8, while the Pennsylvania state House flipped blue, with Democrats picking up a dozen seats, winning GOP-controlled suburban districts and giving their party its first majority in the House in over a decade.
It’s clear that the Trump effect enlarged the blue wave that flooded the Keystone State in November. National pundits are eager to project this dynamic onto the 2024 elections, but they should be cautious: Mr. Trump has a history of defying political trends and expectations. Time will tell how the Trump effect influences the Republican Party’s fortunes in 2024 — both in Pennsylvania and nationally.
This article was originally published by RealClearPennsylvania and made available via RealClearWire. It was provided to the News-Press by The Center Square, a nonprofit dedicated to journalism.
Zach Kennedy is a project director at Firehouse Strategies. Kennedy is a Pittsburgh native and has worked on high-level judicial, state, and federal campaigns in Pennsylvania.