Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, left, and Republican Scott Wagner take part in a gubernatorial debate in Hershey, Pa., Monday, Oct. 1, 2018. The debate is hosted by the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Katie is a reporter for PA Post and she hosts its political podcast State of the State. For two years she has covered the legislature, governor, and a wide range of political issues for public radio stations across Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania received a lot of election attention in 2018, and for good reason.
The swing state went red for President Donald Trump by a hair, and many wondered how Democrats would fare two years later.
The speculation ended in November when Democrats cleaned up.
In fact, Pennsylvania’s two top-ticket races were largely non-events. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey–both incumbent Democrats–skated to easy victories.
There were a few uproars, though. Many were caused by Republican gubernatorial hopeful Scott Wagner, who garnered media attention for such statements as one he directed to Wolf: “You better put a catcher’s mask on your face, because I’m going to stomp all over your face with golf spikes.”
The down-ballot races were more contentious.
A court-ordered redraw of the Congressional map yielded districts that were more competitive for Democrats. After several years stuck in a 13-5 minority, they picked up four seats and evened the field at nine.
State legislative races saw even more Democratic wins.
They snagged 11 seats in the House and five in the Senate–mostly in the Southeast.
It’s a key area Republicans are finding increasingly inhospitable.
Bucks County GOP Chair Pat Poprik said it’s changing fast.
“The people who voted Republican in the past may have still voted for some Republicans, like Brian Fitzpatrick who won the Congressional seat, but in some of the areas locally they may have not,” she said. “It’s just a difference that we’re dealing with. We’re handling it and we’re working it out.”
Some of the margins in the state races were razor thin.
Incumbent Republican Tommy Tomlinson, for instance, beat Democrat Tina Davis by just 74 votes in the 6th Senate District. Davis sued, arguing Pennsylvania’s absentee ballot law is too stringent.
“To ask for a piece of mail to leave the Bucks County board of elections on Wednesday, arrive at the voter’s location by Thursday, and then back to the Board of Elections by Thursday–it just misunderstands how fast the mail works,” said her spokesman, Aren Platt.
The lawsuit ultimately failed, though a separate one filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on similar grounds is pending.
Democrats have long been in the minority in Harrisburg.
And though they haven’t made up all that lost ground, House Democratic spokesman Bill Patton said this year does increase their effectiveness on certain issues, like maintaining union power, making healthcare more accessible, and hiking the minimum wage.
“The calculus for the last couple of years for House Democrats has been trying to find 20 or more House Republicans to work with on a particular issue,” he said. “Now, that number will be significantly lower.”