By Lowman S. Henry
Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal and American Radio Journal
There were many winners and losers on the ballot Election Day, but the name of the biggest loser didn’t appear on the ballot: Governor Tom Wolf. Wolf along with national Democrats invested tens of millions of dollars in a futile attempt to flip control of the Pennsylvania General Assembly only to see the GOP actually tighten its hold on both chambers.
The stakes were high. Republicans have held majorities in both the state Senate and House for the first six years of Wolf’s governorship, and will do so during the last two. While the governor will continue to work his will via executive orders, any chance for enacting his legislative agenda has vanished.
More importantly, the GOP will have the biggest say in the redrawing of congressional district lines. Republican senatorial and legislative candidates were outspent four-to-one as money from a wide array of national Leftwing groups poured into Penn’s Woods in an attempt to gain control of the redistricting process.
Democrats had good reason to be optimistic about their chances. In 2018 a blue wave crashed over the Philadelphia suburbs substantially reducing Republican majorities in both chambers. Polls, wildly inaccurate again this cycle, presaged a strong Democratic vote statewide.
Chances for flipping control of the state Senate had already dimmed after state Senator John Yudichak of Luzerne County left the Democratic Party to become an independent and caucus with Republicans giving the GOP a 29-21 margin. Democrats had high hopes of ousting at least four Republican incumbents; instead, the only GOP loss came in Delaware County where state Senator Tom Killion came up short in his re-election bid.
Republicans off-set that loss as Devlin Robinson ousted state Senator Pam Iovino in Allegheny County. Another Allegheny County seat, that of long-time incumbent Democrat Jim Brewster also appears poised to fall into Republican hands.
Tom Wolf and his national allies poured millions into state House races with spending topping $1 million in some districts. The expected blue wave turned red as the GOP has garnered a net pick-up of at least four seats – including the ousting of House Democratic Leader Frank Dermody of Allegheny County.
Although Joe Biden has scored a contested win in his bid for Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes, Democrats lost two of three statewide constitutional or “row” offices. Incumbent state Treasurer Joe Torsella lost in an upset to Republican Stacy Garrity, while Tim DeFoor became the first person of color to win a statewide office as he was elected Auditor General. It is the first time since 1956 Republicans will hold both of those offices simultaneously.
Democrats had high hopes of flipping at least one congressional seat in Pennsylvania concentrating their efforts on mid-state Congressman Scott Perry, the seat having been touted as one of the five most vulnerable in the nation. In the end, Perry soundly defeated outgoing state Auditor General Eugene Depasquale keeping the seat in GOP hands.
So why the Democratic carnage?
Credit must be given to President Donald Trump whose campaign made Pennsylvania a top target in the process, dramatically increasing the turn-out among Republican voters. Trump’s messaging painting Democrats as radical Leftists out to reshape America into a socialist nation clearly motivated base voters.
Do not, however, underestimate the voter backlash against Governor Tom Wolf and his draconian, inconsistent, and inept policies in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Voters who have been told to abide by the governor’s orders to stem the spread of COVID-19 went to the polls as cases of the virus spiked.
Business closures and unemployment have run rampant throughout the commonwealth this year due to the governor’s policies and by Election Day those policies appeared to have had no impact on the pandemic. Wolf has refused to work together with the Republican-controlled legislature which repeatedly passed legislation aimed at easing the worst of the governor’s draconian policies only to see those bills vetoed.
Legislative Democrats voted in virtual lockstep with the governor. Even when a few went astray, they returned to the fold when override votes were taken, allowing Wolf to consistently prevail. Voters clearly saw what was happening. On Election Day they rewarded the Republicans who stood with them with new terms while turning Democrats out of office.
And so, Tom Wolf set the stage for an embarrassing defeat – squandering millions in campaign cash and ending Democratic hopes of controlling congressional redistricting in Pennsylvania in the process. Voters, as they usually do, had the final say and it was a resounding vote of no confidence in the governor and his legislative allies.