Election 2022 Legislature Pennsylvania

Democrats are poised to capture control of the Pennsylvania House for the first time since 2010 and now have the governorship and both U.S. senators.

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania Democrats set historic election benchmarks in winning the office for governor and a second U.S. Senate seat, and the outcome of three remaining races for the state House would set another.

The minority party stood just two seats shy of winning majority control of the Pennsylvania House on Thursday. If achieved, it would put Democrats in control for the first time since 2010 and, like with former Gov. Ed Rendell, align it with a party member in the executive branch in governor-elect Josh Shapiro.

All 203 seats in the state House were up for election. Democrats gained 10 seats to tie Republicans at 100 each.

The unsettled races are in districts 142, 144 and 151 outside Philadelphia. Two Republican incumbents looked to retain their positions in the latter districts while the parties clashed over the open 142nd.

The Associated Press hadn’t called any of the races as of Thursday afternoon. House Democrats, however, projected on Wednesday that they’d secure the majority.

“It’s an amazing thing what fair opportunity and fair maps will provide,” House Democratic Leader Joanna McClinton said at a press conference, referencing newly redrawn boundaries for legislative districts.

In the moment, state Rep. Matt Bradford, D-70, the minority Appropriations Committee chair, mentioned as priorities both public education funding and vote-by-mail pre-canvassing — allowing county election workers, as is the norm in dozens of other states, to process mail-in and absentee ballots ahead of Election Day.

It’s not a stretch to add protecting women’s productive rights and pursuing additional election administration initiatives to the top of the list. Ensuring abortion access, perhaps more than any other issue, was a Democratic priority during campaign season after the U.S. Supreme Court stripped away federal protections this year.

Democrats gained a seat in the state Senate, too, but majority control remains in Republican control, 28-22.

“You get to push votes now,” said Chris Borick, director of the Muhlenberg College Institute of Public Opinion, said of the importance of majority control in the House.

Should Democrats take control, Borick said they could pass popular legislation that might force a handful of Republicans into a corner: Stick with their party or break and support a favored bill.

“There’s going to be some really interesting gaming going on across the (General Assembly) right now, even just to get votes on record and push topics onto the public agenda without a clear path in the other chamber,” Borick said.

Governor, Senate wins

While control of the House is up in the air, elections for governor and the U.S. Senate are all but official.

Shapiro, the attorney general, bested Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano by 14.4 percentage points, according to unofficial results, which are nearly complete but not yet final. Democrat John Fetterman topped Republican Mehmet Oz by about 4.5%.

Shapiro and Fetterman led in polling throughout the election cycle, often at wide margins. Those margins tightened entering Election Day, to a greater degree in the Senate race. Berwood Yost, director of the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin and Marshall College, wondered if some polls over-represented Republicans this election cycle as had been the case for Democrats in the previous two elections.

Shapiro succeeds Tom Wolf, a two-term Democratic governor, who was term-limited and not able to run again. Shapiro’s victory marks the first time in the history of the modern Democratic Party, dating to the 1840s, that Democrats won three consecutive terms for the office, Yost pointed out.

Fetterman succeeds Republican Pat Toomey, a two-term senator who didn’t seek re-election. He joins a fellow Democrat, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey. That’s historic, too, as Yost noted it’s the first time since the 1940s that Pennsylvania elected two Democrats to the U.S. Senate to serve together.

Casey and another Democrat, Arlen Specter, served together in 2009 and 2010. Specter, as a Republican, broke with his party to support the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, then-President Barack Obama’s recession stimulus bill, which caused the GOP to oppose his re-election bid.

Facing the losing prospect of competing against Toomey in the primaries, Specter switched from the Republican party ahead of the 2010 elections. He was defeated in the Democratic primary.

“Everybody’s familiar with the every-two-cycles nature of the governor contest. That cycle existed for a long time,” Yost said of the parties trading the office every eight years dating to the mid-1950s before Wolf made Republican Tom Corbett a one-term governor in 2014.

“For much of my life, I was accustomed to having Republican senators. It wasn’t unusual to have two Republican senators in this state,” he said.

‘Ahead of schedule’

Borick lists himself in the camp that figured the redrawn legislative boundaries, which made for more competitive contests, may have resulted in Democrats overtaking the House in the coming years: 2024, maybe, or 2026.

“In my mind, this is ahead of schedule for them,” Borick said.

Yost reiterated what countless political analysts have said in this midterm election and elections past: The party in the White House traditionally fares poorly in midterms. This year, that wasn’t necessarily the case and, definitely, not in Pennsylvania.

This cycle showed that elections aren’t just about moderating against a president’s party, Yost said. They can also be about moderating against issues and ideas, like claiming election fraud without evidence or seeking to ban abortion when popular opinion would see it legal in at least some circumstances.

“It was pretty clear from redistricting that the state House lines would be much more fair and competitive. It was always a possibility that Democrats if they had a good top-of-ticket performance, might win,” Yost said.

As Thursday afternoon transitioned into evening, “might” remained in play as the results of the three races remained in question. Unofficial results are due no later than Nov. 15. Counties have until Nov. 29 to certify results.

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