— Election night, Philadelphia, 9:00 p.m. —
I spent the last few hours sitting by myself at a restaurant bar. Before you get the idea that I was living out some sad Frank Sinatra song, my drink of choice was a vanilla latte, and I cherished the virtual solitude. There were other patrons engaged in their own conversations, but I was left blessedly alone to ruminate on the election results, particularly those in Pennsylvania. This is how I wanted it to be. This, in fact, is how I’ve spent virtually every election night since 1980, when my first vote was cast. Elections are sacred, like religion. I prefer to keep my own company. And if that sounds pretentious, let me assure you that I don’t make inane small talk with strangers in church pews, either.
But just because I wasn’t engaging with others doesn’t mean I wasn’t eavesdropping, one of Philadelphia’s distinctive traditions. And since it was election eve, I got an earful from patrons who ran the gamut from Italians who had no idea what was going on and even less interest, to progressives who lamented the probable red wave, to moderates who had split their votes: Shapiro for governor, Oz for senate. This being center city Philadelphia, there were no Trump conservatives sipping their Chianti.
By far the most vocal was the woman sitting a few seats down, expressing to her male companion how important abortion rights were in this mid term election. It took all of my strength not to roll my eyes and display physical revulsion at her comment that “my right to end a pregnancy is a human right, and Oz wants to take that away from me.” It took more than strength and the self control of Catholic martyrs not to interrupt and tell her that as an immigration lawyer who handles asylum cases, John Fetterman’s avowed position on no abortion restrictions was similar to that in several of the totalitarian states my clients had fled.
READ MORE — Christine Flowers: Don’t call us roaches!
The thing that upset me more than her words was that with 15 percent of the vote tabulated at that moment, Fetterman had a resounding 30 point lead over Oz.
Another patron was complaining about the attack ads Oz’s camp had run against Fetterman attacking his lax position on crime. Beer in hand, he appeared to be exactly the sort of blue collar fellow Fetterman courted with his working man demeanor and flashy tattoos. But when the guy at the bar opened his mouth, liberal tropes about mass incarceration poured out. And all I could think of was my friend’s father, murdered in a botched pharmacy robbery three decades ago. When Fetterman got the chance to vote on the perpetrator’s parole a few years ago as a member of the Parole Board, he ignored the victim’s family and sided, predictably, with the convicted felon.
The one other person I overheard was the kind of Never Trumper who didn’t seem interested in Oz v. Fetterman and was instead extolling the virtues of Josh Shapiro. To be more accurate, he was criticizing Doug Mastriano, whose quixotic campaign to win back the governor’s seat for Republicans was dead in the water the moment he won the primary. I saw it. Most of us saw it. So many, though, were in deliberate denial about Mastriano’s chances against a well-oiled, deeply-funded machine backing Shapiro.
This fellow was the closest anyone at that bar came to rejecting Democrats, when he said something along the lines of “God I wish I could have voted for a solid Republican like Dave White,” the Delco businessman who had done surprisingly well in the early stages of the primary.
No Pennsylvanian is going to be completely happy with what we’re left with after the votes are completely counted. And for that, we have only ourselves to blame.
Being in a Philadelphia restaurant bar on election night is not guaranteed to give you an accurate picture of the state. PA is neither as blue as its dense urban centers, nor as red as the rural towns that pushed Mastriano to the head of the primary pack. It’s purple, a perplexing shade of ambiguity. As I write these words, Fetterman holds a ten point lead over Oz with only about 20 percent of the vote counted. That’s nothing. To the chagrin of the woman to my right lamenting about her evaporated abortion rights, Oz might very well edge out the mayor of Braddock, the fellow who talks about criminal justice reform but held a shotgun to an innocent man. It’s anyone’s race to win.
But one thing is certain, from my impersonation of an East German Stasi agent this chilly November eve: no Pennsylvanian is going to be completely happy with what we’re left with after the votes are completely counted.
And for that, we have only ourselves to blame.
Christine Flowers is an attorney and lifelong Philadelphian. @flowerlady61