Last week, voters in Pennsylvania’s key swing counties sent a message to Republicans: Nominate a competent candidate who cares about our quality of life, and we’ll give you a win. Given that a few thousand of these voters can easily determine statewide and even national elections, the GOP should take this message to heart.
Just look to the Lehigh Valley’s Northampton County, the state’s perennial political bellwether. In the last century, Northampton – a populous expanse of cities, suburbia, and rural townships about 90 minutes west of New York City on Interstate 78 – has chosen the winning presidential candidate all but three times.
This Election Day, Northampton’s Steve Lynch, a Donald Trump-style GOP candidate for county executive, lost handily to Democratic incumbent Lamont McClure. During his campaign, Lynch focused on issues – including immigration, claims of fraud in the 2020 election, and national media bias – that he could do nothing about as county executive. McClure, meanwhile, focused on jobs, taxes, and “stable, responsible leadership.”
In Trumpian fashion, Lynch has refused to accept the election results, telling supporters on Facebook that “God’s people are just beginning this march! I am invigorated to eviscerate the swamp creatures in our county.” He further declared, “We are just getting started,” curiously adding, “Who’s ready for phase 2?”
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“He would have done better if he was listed as ‘Candidate X’ with an ‘R’ next to his name,” said Christopher Borick, director of Muhlenberg College’s Institute of Public Opinion. “Every Republican county council and state judicial candidate did better than him, yet somehow he was slighted?”
While Republican candidates throughout Pennsylvania benefited from backlash over issues like the implementation of critical race theory concepts in public schools, the culture war was just one among many factors influencing voters.
Indeed, as Borick noted, voters in Northampton and other swing counties across the state liked the “old school GOP” message they heard from most Republican candidates.
This was the case in Erie County, a blue-collar union stronghold that “hit rock bottom” economically in recent years. Erie’s quest to escape economic doldrums, high opioid addiction rates, and population loss made it a key pivot county that helped swing Pennsylvania between Barack Obama, Trump, and Joe Biden in the last three presidential elections. Last week, a progressive Democratic candidate for Erie’s county executive lost, despite Democrats’ 140,000-voter-registration advantage over Republicans.
A progressive Democratic candidate for Erie’s county executive lost, despite Democrats’ 140,000-voter-registration advantage over Republicans.
Tyler Titus, an openly transgender candidate who uses the pronoun they, outraised the Republican candidate, Brenton Davis, by a 10-to-1 margin thanks to out-of-state donors. But Davis, a Navy veteran and local business owner who focused heavily on Erie’s economic revival, won by about four percentage points. He is the first Republican to hold the office in two decades.
Even suburban Philadelphia’s Bucks County seemed to yearn for traditional Republican candidates. For generations, communities in Bucks and neighboring “collar” counties were competitive GOP territory, but since 2016 Democrats have dominated here amid an anti-Trump surge. In 2020, Bucks’ high Democratic voter registration and Republicans’ split-ballot voting were key to Joe Biden’s statewide victory.
But that blue wave seems to have ebbed in Bucks, where Republicans swept every county-wide election last week.
Incumbent District Attorney Matt Weintraub – the sole Republican to hold a county “row office” in the Philadelphia suburbs going into Election Day – won reelection by relying on his image of practicality and humble service, qualities often dismissed as too folksy or even weak on the national stage.
As local Bucks officials observed, in addition to running palatable candidates, the GOP prevailed among voters concerned about an inflationary economy.
“Saying Biden is bad doesn’t work – he seems like a nice older man – but mentions of inflation and things voters can relate to does work,” said Bucks GOP Chairperson Pat Poprik.
Common among the Democrats elected in Northampton County and the Republicans elected in Erie and Bucks counties was a focus on bread-and-butter economic issues and promises of responsible governance. Their success underscores the difficulty that radicals on either side of the aisle face in Pennsylvania.
Common among the Democrats elected in Northampton County and the Republicans elected in Erie and Bucks counties was a focus on bread-and-butter economic issues and promises of responsible governance.
Indeed, Titus’s loss could spell trouble for firebrand progressives like Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who is running to fill the U.S. Senate seat that Republican Sen. Pat Toomey will retire from next year. Lynch’s loss, meanwhile, offers a warning to Republicans that Trump-style politicians, including Senate candidate Sean Parnell, are unlikely to find repeat success in the Keystone State.
In this historically pragmatic state, middle-of-the-road candidates are the ones likely to prevail in next year’s midterms. For now, “old school” Republicans have the electoral advantage.
Michael Torres writes about Pennsylvania politics and policy issues. He is an editor at Broad + Liberty. @MindofTorres.
This article was republished with permission from Real Clear Politics.