Democratic candidates across the Commonwealth came up short in their quest to flip the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and State Senate during the November 3 election, despite sustained optimism for their success beforehand — and media enthusiasm that Democrats might take hold of both chambers of the state legislature.
PA Democrats needed to flip nine seats in the 203-member House and four seats in the 50-member State Senate in order to gain control of the General Assembly. While several races have still yet to be called, Republicans are currently poised to retain their House majority and possibly increase their Senate control by one seat, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. There is even a possibility that Republicans could improve on their numbers in the State House as well, the paper notes.
It is a stunning turnaround from the pre-election speculation from Democratic establishment figures and members of the left-leaning media. Many local and statewide outlets appeared positively giddy at the chance for Democrats to take control in Harrisburg. Just weeks before, the Philadelphia Inquirer proclaimed that Democrats were within “striking distance” of flipping the General Assembly as “Democratic candidates and outside groups are outspending Republicans by a margin of more than three to one across the most competitive battleground districts.”
Other local publications supported the same predictions of a statewide Democratic sweep. Philadelphia Magazine ran a story announcing a “consensus” that Democrats will “gain ground” in the state legislature.
While several races have still yet to be called, Republicans are currently poised to retain their House majority and increase their Senate control by one seat, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. There is even a possibility that Republicans could increase their control in the State House as well, the paper notes.
The Inquirer quotes Delaware County Democratic Rep. Leanne Krueger, who helped chair the House Democrats’ campaigns this cycle, as saying she is “cautiously optimistic about our chances to take the majority in November.”
Philly Mag cites political consultant Neil Oxman, who evidently suffered from the same delusions that afflicted pollsters and media across the nation this election season: “Will there be more Democrats in the legislature after 2020 than there are now? Absolutely. Does it get to [a House majority of] 102? It’s going to be close.”
They all hit a wall once the voters had their say.
Instead, state Democrats fell flat, specifically in Philadelphia’s rapidly transitioning inner suburbs, and the areas around Harrisburg and Lancaster where many moderate voters — unenthused with the Trump Party — still voted for Republicans down the ticket.
In the Senate, the parties traded seats, with incumbents Pam Iovino in the west and Tom Killion in the Philly suburbs going down; Republicans defended seats that Democrats expected to flip in South-Central PA, and one race in Greater Pittsburgh is yet to be called, between incumbent Democrat Jim Brester and Republican challenger Nicole Ziccarelli.
Depending on that final race, the results amount to net zero for state Democrats, or a loss of one seat.
Article after article was published detailing extensive ‘paths to victory’ for Democrats to upend the GOP’s grip on the General Assembly. They all hit a wall once the voters had their say.
In the House, Republicans retained seats in Philadelphia’s collar counties, from Montgomery County, where fifth-term State Rep. Todd Stephens prevailed in a race Democrats looked to flip, to Bucks, where KC Tomlinson won her first full term, to Chester, where Republican Craig Williams triumphed in an open race WHYY labeled “likely to flip” to the Democrats.
Democrats mostly defended their turf in marginal seats across the state — though incumbent first-term Bucks County Rep. Wendy Ullman was unseated, along with a handful of other flips — but were stunned as one of their leadership is likely to go down. While the votes are yet to be confirmed, House Minority Leader Frank Dermody appears likely to lose his bid for his Allegheny-area seat to local councilwoman Carrie DelRosso, after holding it for nearly two decades. Dermody currently trails DelRosso by nearly 1,000 votes, representing 48.6% of the electorate compared to DelRosso’s 51.4%.
Democrats have not held control of both chambers of the General Assembly since 1993, according to Ballotpedia. The hoped-for “blue wave” would have handed Democrats total control of the Commonwealth’s political power, including a trifecta of the left-leaning State Supreme Court, Governor, and both houses of the legislature — at least until 2022, when Gov. Wolf completes his second consecutive term in office.
Democrats have also held a monopoly on the three state “Row Offices” of Attorney General, Auditor General and Treasurer for years. State Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, won his bid for reelection; Republicans picked up the other two, with Dauphin County Controller Tim DeFoor beating perennial Democratic candidate Nina Ahmad, and military veteran Stacy Garrity ousting incumbent Democratic Treasurer Joe Torsella.
Albert Eisenberg is a co-founder of Broad + Liberty. @albydelphia
Spencer Landis is a student at the University of Pennsylvania. He is currently interning at Broad + Liberty. @sdlandis25.