Election Night 2015 Take-Aways

ballotAnother 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.

The Democrats also won seats on the Superior and Commonwealth Courts and while those bodies retain large GOP majorities it does make for an impressive 5-for-5 sweep.

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.”

After Wolf and the GOP won huge victories in 2014, they both claimed a mandate. In 2015, however, only one side can point to a win.

…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.

Of course, Kentucky is ruby red and Virginia purple. So does that make Pennsylvania blue?

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.

24 Responses

  1. The only takeaway from election night is that lots of crooks inhabit PA govt and many more are on the way. No end in sight for political show trials and real prosecutions of corrupt politicians/judges. Stock up on the popcorn and bag the evidence.

  2. Jack where do the priests who touch little boys fall in the battle between homosexuals and christians? I’m having trouble choosing sides.

  3. …”rioters over cops, illegals over Americans, and homosexuals over Christians.”

    Jack…America is very fortunate that the majority of rational citizens don’t see things in the black and white tones that you do. Keep talking like that Jack. THAT is why Democrats will win the White House in 2016…because the GOP has gone off a right wing cliff and most normal thinking Americans are not crazy enough to follow you.

  4. Jack-

    Homosexuals over Christians? Do you mean supporting tolerance and equal protections over religious bigotry?

    PA is a solid blue state that has voted for Dem presidential candidates since 1992. Hillary would wipe the floor with any of the GOP nominees. It won’t even be close.

  5. You know what’s fun? Even if there were zero votes coming out of Philadelphia, the Democrats would still have swept the Court races.

  6. What is interesting is that while presidential polls are giving Republicans a GREAT chance to take PA in 2016 (including Trump leading Hillary), the election results were really bad for Republicans. Pennsylvania is naturally a competitive state and demographically should be moving away from Democrats…as Democrats lurch further left in their support of rioters over cops, illegals over Americans, and homosexuals over Christians. Most Pennsylvanians, somewhere in the middle politically, will recoil from Democrats when this is pointed out. And I do believe the lurch to the far left under Obama is what is causing presidential polls to look good for the GOP in PA.

    But I can’t explain the judicial elections. Obviously Republicans did not get their vote out.

  7. i find it very tiresome to read diatribes such as gulag’s which impugn various politicos without setting forth one shred of evidence. i certainly hope gulag never becomes a practicing lawyer charged with presenting evidence in a client’s case. perhaps s/he could fill us in on what evidence supports the latest accusations ?

  8. Gerrymandering; it’s why Ds win statewide and lose district races. It’s why more Pennsylvanians vote for Democratic congressional candidates yet we have twice the number of Republican congressmen. So here’s my takeaway; Wolf won. The majority of the voters pj med a D proving that the Democrat brand is still strong. Hopefully this new court will draw better districts

  9. Yes the Democrats won the Court. Why? Because the election for the Court was a state-wide race. It was immune from gerrymandering. PA is a blue state and the majorities in the state house reflect just how unfair the gerrymandered districts are. When there is a fair race with decently funded candidates–Democrats win.

  10. How the author could even suggest that Tom Wolf was the big loser is a complete and total joke. Rob Gleason makes a partisan statement over a special election in a swing senatorial district and the author buys it? Democrats won back the Commissioners office in Westmoreland County and all the R’s did was tie the incumbent Democrat to Tom Wolf. The clearest sign that Wolf WASN’T the loser was the sweep of the Appellate Courts. When is the last time the Democrats did that? Three seats on the highest court in a municipal election year is unprecedented. Hang tough Governor, the timid career politicians in the Republican-controlled legislature are what’s wrong with PA.

  11. Nobody sees the 800-pound gorilla in the room. Voters HATE incumbents. Nationally, it’s Carson and Trump, and the surprising staying power of Sanders. In Pennsylvania, Wolf is impotent, irrelevant; he can’t get anything through the Legislature. So the “incumbents” are Republicans — and we are sick of their inability to pass a budget, either with Wolf’s cooperation or over his veto, by negotiating with legislative Democrats — which is what we are paying them to do. If I ever wanted to hold state-level legislative office — and I would be crazy to want to — in 2016, it’ll be the year of the non-incumbent. Watch and see how many incumbents get whupped in the primaries.

  12. Christine Donohue is still an unethical witchthat makes up facts and perverts and/or ignores the law.

  13. Don’t get too excited about the Supreme Court race. Remember, Baer is owned by the Republicans. The three new members of the court need to align themselves squarely with soon to be Chief Justice Todd and form a block of four. Don’t fall for the old ‘we are not a partisan court’ BS line, that Baer Saylor and Eakin will try to sell. Look at how well that worked out for McCaffery. It’s also sad that Dougherty is the only justice from east of Harrisburg. What happened to geographic diversity?

  14. The strength of the DEM judicial candidates in Southwest PA and was the biggest surprise. Olson gained very little traction in her home county of Allegheny and the DEM candidates won all 3 Supreme court races by healthy margins in Beaver, Westmoreland, Cambria, Washington, Greene and Fayette counties.

  15. Dems also kicked ass in Centre County (beating the GOP majority commissioners) and Montgomery County (winning every single row office probably for the first time in history. In Bucks, there could be a recount. No way to spin this, the Dems kicked some serious ass yesterday.

  16. What are you talking about Nick? Appalachia? Trends? The D’s won those areas for the Supremes. The D’s retook Westmoreland, Cambria and Armstrong. What are you talking about?

  17. “quite likely the next legislative maps will be less favorable to the GOP.” True, if it’s drawn in a remotely fair manner.

    The other factor for Toomey has been his ability to hide his conservative views by not opening his mouth like Santorum and the other crazies.

  18. I am reminded of the NY Times quote of the day during the ABSCAM sting by the immortal Congressman Ozzie Myers–“Money talks bullshit walks.” Dems outspent the GOP for the first time in a long time

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