For Pennsylvania voters this year, it wasn’t just the Presidential race that mattered; we also decided on three statewide “row offices” — and Philadelphia voters provided crucial margins to winning candidates. Overall, the races were a mixed bag for both major parties, with two out of three going into the Republican column, and one Democrat retaining his post: Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who is nearly certain to run for higher office (Governor or Senate in 2022).
Comparing the row office results across Philadelphia could show us something about why voters voted the way they did, and which party showed signs of growth in which parts of the city.
In the Democratic column, incumbent Attorney GeneralJosh Shapiro sought and received a second term in office, defeating Republican challenger Heather Heidelbaugh 50.7% to 46.5%. In the Auditor General contest, Republican Tim DeFoor, the Controller of Dauphin County, bested former Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Nina Ahmad, 49.6% to 46.2%. For Treasurer, incumbent Democrat Joe Torsella unexpectedly went down to defeat at the hands of Republican Stacy Garrity, a businesswoman and Army veteran, 48.9% to 47.8% — the narrowest of the three row office races.
The two Republican wins showed some surprising party strength in the Commonwealth, mimicking Republicans’ surprise success across the state – with the exception of the top of the ticket. They were the party’s first row office victories since 2008, and Garrity’s win marked the first time a Republican has defeated an incumbent Democrat for a row office since 1994.
DeFoor’s win was historic in a different way, as he became the first non-white candidate to win a statewide election in Pennsylvania – and the GOP desperate for more diverse elected officials will be happy to see a black candidate elected statewide.
The vote in the city mirrored that of the state in some important ways. Most voters voted for all four Republicans – President Trump and the three row office candidates – or none, as the map below shows.
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But a not-insignificant number of voters did show a propensity to split their tickets in interesting ways. Among those who split their tickets, Democrat Josh Shapiro was the main beneficiary. In sixty-three of the city’s sixty-six wards, Democrats led in all four races – and in most of these it was not close. But in two places — the Far Northeast’s 58th and 66th wards — Trump, DeFoor, and Garrity all won while Shapiro edged out Heidelbaugh.
In only one ward, South Philadelphia’s 26th, did all four Republicans come out on top. Shapiro’s vote total in the city was 547,807, about ten thousand votes higher than Torsella’s and fifteen thousand higher than Ahmad’s.
In states where elections are lost on a few thousand votes, these margins matter.
Although Trump, DeFoor, and Garrity all won the same three wards, their vote totals differed. A look at which candidate led the Republican ticket in which wards can show us a little about what drove Philadelphians to vote Republican. Trump led the ticket across most of the Northeast, part of South Philly, and the Hispanic neighborhoods of North Philadelphia. From this, we might surmise that Trump attracted new voters to his cause in those places, but did not necessarily convince them to vote the rest of the Republican candidates – meaning that unlike for many Republicans statewide and nationally, in Philadelphia sometimes Republicans ran behind the President.
In the rest of the city, either DeFoor or Garrity led the top of the Republican ticket. Where they did so presents a somewhat puzzling pattern.
In the rest of the city, either DeFoor or Garrity led the top of the Republican ticket. Where they did so presents a somewhat puzzling pattern. In most of the wards with a majority-black population, Garrity, who is white, was the top Republican vote-getter. In majority-white and mixed wards like in Northwest Philadelphia, DeFoor, who is black, was the most popular Republican for voters. The differences between the two are mere tenths of a percent in many cases, but the pattern holds throughout the city, as the map below shows. The answer may be that in two underfunded races, most voters were unaware of either candidate’s race.
Although vote totals tend to drop off the farther down the ballot we go, Garrity’s strength was not just a matter of winning a higher percentage of a smaller number of votes. Although she trailed DeFoor in the citywide vote with 118,922 to his 119,278, in a number of wards she gained more votes than any other Republican candidate. For example, in North Philadelphia’s 47th ward, none of the Republicans did particularly well, but Garrity’s 234 votes outpaced DeFoor (195), Heidelbaugh (205), and even Trump (198).
Perhaps not much can be learned from the marginal differences in these relatively unpublicized races, but there is one more takeaway: in the first election since the Commonwealth got rid of straight-ticket voting, Republicans had their best down-ballot year in decades. The change was a less-noted part of the 2019 election reform bill that brought mail-in voting to Pennsylvania for the first time. The bill was a compromise, with Democrats hoping to benefit by mail-in votes and Republicans believing that removing the straight-ticket option helped their candidates.
It turns out that both sides were right, with Pennsylvania snapping back to the Democrats at the Presidential level after Trump flipped the state for the first time in generations in 2016.
In the first election since the Commonwealth got rid of straight-ticket voting, Republicans had their best down-ballot year in decades.
No one in 2019 expected the mail-in vote to be as large as it became because of the coronavirus epidemic, but that vote surely favored the Democrats, as promised. Republican success down-ballot might also be attributable to the change, as the act of marking each selection individually led some small fraction of voters to split their votes – or, for some Democrats to not vote down-ballot all. Perhaps they had little information in these races – and non-voting was a reasonable choice for them.
So, while the results on the top lines of the ballot naturally led Democrats to celebrate, the bottom lines should give them cause for concern. The effects extend beyond the offices in question, too. In considering candidates for 2022’s race for Governor and Senate (both open seats) the parties will look to their “bench,” their lower-level officeholders, as potential nominees. Attorney General Shapiro maintained his potential for higher office by winning statewide for the second time; defeated Treasurer Joe Torsella now seems less likely to be mentioned for the job. For Republicans, Garrity and DeFoor now must appear near the top of any such short list, having run ahead of Trump this year in the Commonwealth, and establishing a record of success in a tough electoral environment.