Pugliese Perspective: Midterms 2018
(As of November 7th, this is what we know.)
Nationally, Democrats hoped a “blue wave” was coming, though many seem to be calling that wave purple one day after the election. To be fair, for these Democrats, it may be because too many allowed “wave” to be interpreted as a “tsunami”. The truth is, if you had told Democrats in 2017 (when NO ONE was talking about them retaking control of the House) what last night’s mixed results would be, they would have been giddy. Did yesterday’s midterms represent a push back against the Trump Administration? Frankly, yes, in some regions of the country, as well as in Pennsylvania, specifically the Southeast. Yet, there were also many victories which affirmed the new Republican Party under Trump as Democratic House gains were tempered by Republican victories in the Senate.
Here in Pennsylvania, the Congressional delegation, which was 13-5 Republican majority, is now evenly split between Republicans and Democrats (9-9), with Democrats winning three pick-ups in the newly drawn, court-imposed districts; Democrats now represent the regions in and around Philadelphia, Scranton and Pittsburgh as Republicans strengthened their grip on rural Pennsylvania.
Leading into last night, most major, nonpartisan handicappers had long predicted exactly what happened in the fight for Congress: strong Democratic wins in the House, picking up a majority for the first time since 2010, and Republican gains in the Senate, where Democrats had to defend 26 seats, ten of them in solid Republican states that Trump had won in 2016. At a state level across the nation there were some twists and turns, and while Democrats fell short of the ten governor’s races they had hoped for, losing Iowa and Ohio, they won in New Mexico, Michigan, Illinois, Nevada, Maine, Wisconsin and Kansas. Connecticut is still pending.
So, while both Republicans and Democrats can claim victory in the 2018 Midterm Elections, the real “victor” may be continued and heightened partisan division. Will we see more investigations or will common ground be found on issues like nationwide infrastructure funding or comprehensive immigration reform and border security? Will the battle lines for 2020 begin immediately or will we have some breathing room to witness more than mudslinging? These answers will be given to us in the days and weeks ahead, perhaps even before 2019.
In Harrisburg, many of these themes apply. We still have a Democratic Governor and a Republican majority legislature, albeit trimmed majorities after the Democrats captured 5 Republican Senate seats (new majority 29-21) and 11 in the House (new majority 110-93). In the wake of losing moderate Republicans, the smaller House and Senate Republican majorities are markedly more conservative. Time will tell what this means for the Governor’s first budget of his second term, but continued – and perhaps heightened – gridlock may prevail.
In closely examining the State Senate, there were a few surprises, one of which was the upset of Senator Tom McGarrigle, a moderate from Delaware County. The campaign that Tom assembled was a true professional one and in theory, best suited to withstand the blue wave. That was an erroneous assumption. Tom lost by over 10,000 votes. Why? Probably because there was little if any help from the top of the ticket and in the Congressional race in the area. The race in the west that Jeremy Shaffer narrowly lost to Lindsey Williams was another interesting race. Jeremy defeated incumbent Randy Vulakovich in the Republican primary with the help of a right-wing group called Citizens Alliance of PA (CAP). Apparently, CAP opposed Randy for his vote on the transportation infrastructure bill that passed less than 4 years ago. Although Jeremy is a great guy and hard campaigner, the area’s demographics proved to be challenging for a conservative. There are those who believe that if Randy was on the ballot in the general election, he would have won; unfortunately, we will never know. Another senate race is Senator Pat Browne’s. Pat won his race by over 2600 votes, which was a shock since the results were way closer than in previous elections. Pat’s district includes the City of Allentown along with areas within Lehigh County. What was shocking is that despite Pat’s herculean efforts that dramatically improved the economic vitality of Allentown through the Neighborhood Improvement Zone (NIZ), many of the voting precincts voted against Pat.
In the end, the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee did an excellent job in recruiting strong candidates, especially women in this election cycle. The Jay Costa team prioritized, financed and were able to win seats that many thought they could not win. Now with 21 members going into the 2019-20 Legislative session, they will definitely have a strong presence in budget and legislative issues – they are now a viable entity.
Regarding the Senate Republican Campaign Committee, Scarnati and his team, predominately Senators Corman and Browne raised a lot of money but in the end, there were circumstances outside of their control that created the opportunity for the Democrats in winning seats that were questionable months before the elections. In the end, Governor Wolf’s strong showing against Scott Wagner, the Republican candidate, along with highly financed and contested Congressional races were the perfect storm for the Democrats.
Now for the PA House – many of us who work in Harrisburg knew that the Republicans would have a challenging task due to the top of the ticket and what has become as a very divisive political climate we have in Washington, DC. The Southeast and neighboring New Jersey is one of the epicenters of anger and resistance to the President. As a result, we believe that many voters pulled one lever, the Democratic one, to send a message and the message was signed, sealed and delivered. For many of the House members, there were no backstops to have voters to split the ticket; again, very little resonating from the top and very bruising congressional contests that predominately went Democratic. Moderates such as Becky Corbin, Warren Kampf, Jamie Santora and a host of others all from the Southeast just could not withstand the blue wave in this geographical area.
As with the Senate Democrats, the House Democratic Campaign Committee did an admirable job in candidate recruitment. Frank Dermody and his team should be congratulated in implementing a strong election plan that produced strong results. The Democratic caucus, although still in the minority, will now have the ability to play a more viable role in the shaping of legislation in next year’s session.
The plight of the Senate Republicans also holds true for the House Republicans, which is that circumstances for which they had no control, played a major role in the reduction of their majority. The Southeast part of the State is now an area that may continue to be a problem for Republicans and not just an outlier as the Democrats will likely exert more resources to add to their numbers in the region. For Speaker Turzai and his team, they too had a challenging task ahead of themselves in this past election with the political climate as it is. As stated above, House republican incumbents from the Southeast who lost were moderates and their political ideology was consistent with their constituents; in this election, it did not matter. Although the House Republican majority has been reduced, the fact that this is their fifth consecutive session with a majority is pretty amazing in light of circumstances beyond their control.
So, there is our view of mid-terms and how this past election may mean in the next State legislative session. We hope you enjoyed this particular blog and if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to contact us. If you have a legislative, regulatory or budgetary issue that needs to be addressed, again, please connect with us.