Election Night 2015 Take-Aways
Another election is in the books.
As we survey things the morning after, let’s take a look at what we learned.
Dems Control the Courts, Republicans Run the Legislature
There’s no polite way to put this. The Democrats simply dominated the judicial races.
In a seven candidate field (there was one independent) the top three finishers would take the trio of open seats on the State Supreme Court. The Democratic candidates easily emerged ahead with an approx. 170,000 vote margin separating third and fourth place.
As I discussed on Monday, this election will also likely determine the direction of the court for years to come. Decisions on issues we can’t even imagine will come before a liberal majority in Pennsylvania’s highest court for the foreseeable future.
Perhaps most important, though, is the effect this will have on redistricting. The left has considered the Keystone State to be one of the most gerrymandered states in the country and it’s quite likely the next legislative maps will be less favorable to the GOP.
Speaking of the legislature, however, it’s clear it will be controlled by Republicans for a long time. Guy Reschenthaler won the State Senate special election in the 37th district, increasing the GOP’s majority to 31-19.
Governor Wolf was the biggest loser…
Which takes me to my next point, Republicans will (with some justification) spin this as a loss for Gov. Wolf.
The budget stalemate has continued on interminably for months but this election is the first contest to take place since it began. Therefore, whichever side won would take it as a referendum and declare their opponent the loser. That’s exactly what happened.
“Tonight, voters in Washington and Allegheny Counties soundly rejected the high tax policies of Governor Tom Wolf and the Democrats,” PA GOP Chair Rob Gleason said in a statement last night. “After months of blocking critical funds from going to our schools and social services, perhaps tonight’s loss in Southwestern Pennsylvania will serve as the wake-up call Governor Wolf needs to step off of the campaign trail and head to the budget negotiating table with Republicans.”
…or was he just a victim of circumstance?
While the Governor will undoubtedly take heat for the SD-37 loss, it’s worth asking whether it was really his fault.
Candidates matter greatly in these contests but they’re rarely factored in.
For instance, remember when Scott Brown won the Massachusetts Senate race in 2010 and the headache it caused President Obama? Everyone thinks of that contest in retrospective as a referendum on Obamacare but maybe it was just the result of Brown running a better campaign than Martha Coakley (Coakley delivered perhaps the most tone-deaf statement ever uttered by a politician during that race).
Additionally, much like real estate politics is about location, location, location.
The 37th district is in Allegheny and Washington Counties, the Appalachian parts of the state. As I noted in September, western PA has increasingly moved away from the Democratic Party. So the fact that they lost this seat may have more to do with long-term trends then the issues of the day.
Johnny Doc is For Real
John Dougherty, Business Manager for IBEW 98, has for some time been considered the most powerful labor leader in Philadelphia and a powerful force in the city. Well, he just flexed his statewide muscles.
John’s brother, Kevin, not only was elected to the PA Supreme Court but received the most votes of any candidate.
Last May, it was an open question whether this association would hurt Dougherty statewide. For example, in the primary 39% of his total came from Philadelphia and the number rose to 55% when you factored in the city’s “collar counties”. This time, though, those numbers were 18% and 41% respectively.
He still performed spectacularly in Philadelphia, though, finishing just behind Kenney in vote totals.
Nevertheless, Johnny Doc should remember the old saying “With great power comes being used as a punching bag by the opposition party.”
Is Pennsylvania Officially a Blue State?
Finally, when you look at the statewide results in Pennsylvania and compare them to those around the country one must ask: Is PA a blue state?
While Republicans won the highest-profile races of Election Night 2015, the Kentucky Governorship and the Virginia State Senate, they didn’t come close to grabbing any of PA’s statewide judicial seats.
Keep in mind, calling Pennsylvania a blue state doesn’t mean Republicans can’t win here, it simply means that the GOP has a harder mountain to climb.
Republicans tend to perform best in off-year elections while Democrats do best in years with a presidential contest. Therefore, if the GOP couldn’t win statewide in 2015 how will they win in 2016?
That’s the multi-million dollar question, especially for one Senator Pat Toomey.
The freshman has a lot of factors going for him right now: a fractured Democratic primary, great fundraising totals, and a positive approval rating. Nevertheless, the battlefield will be titled against him next November.