Saturday, September 22, 2018

Pennsylvania Governor- Race of the Day

45 Days Until Election Day

Pennsylvania Governor

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2016 Presidential Result: Red State (East)

Outlook: Likely Democrat

From 1950 to 2014, Pennsylvania Gubernatorial elections followed a very distinct pattern. A Democrat would be elected to replace a Governor or Governors who had served multiple terms, and then that party would hold office for eight years, to then be replaced by a Republican Administration that would hold office for eight years, and so on and so on.

Democrats broke this trend in 2014, a rare bright spot for them in that midterm year, when first time candidate Tom Wolf defeated an unpopular Republican incumbent seeking a second term. Wolf, a very wealthy businessman who had served in the Cabinet of Democrat Governor Ed Rendell, spent massive amounts of money on television ads to overwhelm better known primary opponents and then the GOP incumbent in November. In some ways, this was similar to how Bruce Rauner won the Governorship of Illinois that year, although the Keystone State is more receptive to Democrats than Illinois has been to Republicans, and Wolf fits more easily with the base of his party ideologically than Rauner did.

Another similarity between the two wealthy businessmen who became Governors was that they had to work with a legislature controlled by the other party. The Republican majority though was smaller than the one enjoyed by Democrats in Illinois, but regardless, after a period of standoff, Wolf was more successful in finding a way to work with his opponents and thus avoided extreme political unpopularity. For the most part, voters have tended to approve of Wolf's efforts in office, and the Governor, who also dealt with a bout of prostate cancer, and who continues to have a very large net worth has been a solid favorite for reelection. Other Democrats elected on the ticket were not so lucky though. The Attorney General was convinced on felony chargers and sentenced to prison. In this year's May primary,  the Lt. Governor of Pennsylvania finished in fourth place in a five person primary. Mike Stack had some sort of falling out with Governor Wolf, and the voters seemed to not like him much either. As Wolf refused to endorse a candidate, he took 17 percent, finishing behind
Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone who had 19 percent, and former Deputy Philadelphia Mayor Nina Ahmad who took 24 percent. The winner though at 38 percent was John Fetterman, an unsuccessful 2016 U.S. Senate candidate who was the mayor of the blue collar town of Braddock. The tattooed Fetterman resembles a professional wrestler more than a politician. Due to the primary result, he became the official running-mate of Governor Wolf. Both men are bald and have facial hair, but do not look very much alike otherwise. They certainly come from different backgrounds and have different styles. They seem to be coexisting ok on the campaign trail, but it will be interesting to see the dynamics between them in Harrisburg if the ticket wins.

Pennsylvania Republicans knew it would be tough to knock off an incumbent, but many of course gave it consideration. House Speaker Mike Turzai, whom had clashed with Wolf, entered the race, but dropped out after he determined he could not match the spending habits of wealthy primary opponents, ahead of the state GOP endorsement voting.

Three candidates would make it to the primary. The state Republican Party endorsed State Senator Scott Wagner. He was challenged on the right by businessman Paul Mango, a former Army officer. Also in the race, was attorney Laura Ellsworth, whom some felt could be a more moderate and electable figure as a female. The voting gave the establishment backed Wagner the win though with 44 percent, Mango took 37 percent, and Ellsworth 19. Interestingly enough, the Trump supporting Wagner also had the pre-primary endorsement of Steve Bannon, the former high-ranking White House official referred to by some a "Trump's brain." The thinking was perhaps that Wagner could appeal to the kind of blue collar voters that delivered the state surprisingly to Trump. He was the first Republican to win the state in a Presidential election since 1988 and it was the easternmost point of his statewide victories.

Four Republicans also ran for Lt. Governor in the May primary. The party backed choice, and eventual victor was businessman Jeff Bartos, who ran jointly but unofficially in the primaries with Wagner. He took 47 percent defeating three female opponents. Finishing behind were political activist Kathy Coder at 22 percent, Washington County Commissioner and Mango's unofficial partner, Diana Irey Vaughan who had 18 percent. At 14 percent, at the back of the field was conservative activist Peg Luksik who had frequently sought office in Pennsylvania as either a Republican or as a member of a third party.

With the general election in focus, it is clear that Wagner is a credible candidate, and Wolf is the rare large state Governor who is not seen as a likely Presidential candidate for his party. This race should be at least somewhat close, but polls are showing a pretty hard to make up gap in favor of the incumbent. It might just be that after going red in 2016, Democrats are extra motivated this year in the state to show up and vote. Judicial redistricting at the Congressional level, which overturned a GOP drawn map, is expected to yield some U.S. House pickups to Democrats. As usual, Democrats will dominate in the urban areas, while Republicans should do very well in the rural areas. The suburban areas, especially around Philadelphia will be the battleground, and that might not be too fertile territory for Republicans this cycle, especially with Trumpish nominees heading up the ticket.

The major question might be what exactly Pennsylvania voters see in Tom Wolf that they did not see in Hillary Clinton. There could be a variety of factors, but perhaps most significantly, his team will not be taking the state's votes for granted.

Gubernatorial Races predicted thus far:

14 D  (2 Safe, 3 Likely,  6 Leans, 3 Tossup) 
14 R   (2 Safe, 5 Likely, 5 Leans, 2 Tossup)

Total with predictions thus far:

21 D (7 holdovers, 2 Safe, 3 Likely, 6 Leans, 3 Tossup)
21 R (7 holdovers, 2 Safe, 5 Likely, 5 Leans, 2 Tossup)


At 9:31 AM, Blogger Steve Boudreaux said...

Wolf wins reelection by double digits: 59% to 38%!


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