Never in modern political history has Pennsylvania been the focus of national attention as it was during the 2020 presidential election.
Identified as the most important swing state for both President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, the Commonwealth received the most appearances by the candidates, as well as at least $200 million of campaign advertisements.
So, under the glare of the political spotlight, how did Pennsylvania do? Did we live up to the hype? Did we deliver a free, fair, and decisive presidential election result? Did Pennsylvania make the right choice for the nation?
Damn right we did. We chose a native Pennsylvanian.
America saw Pennsylvania at its best and its worst, but mostly its best.
- The Keystone State: Never mind the lame attempts of Wisconsin, Georgia, and Arizona to claim they were the tipping points of the presidential election. Yes, if 44,000 votes in those three states had switched from Biden to Trump, the president would be celebrating four more years in office. However, everybody knows that on Saturday, November 7, at 11:30 a.m., the Commonwealth made Joe Biden President-Elect.
- Voters: Nearly seven million Pennsylvanians or 71 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. This record-setting performance happened despite a pandemic, changes in election law, unusual post office delays, new (and old, paper-and-pencil) voting technology in many places, “naked” ballots, and partisan conflict over whether voting in person or by mail was the better way to cast a legal, secure vote.
- Joe Biden: The Scranton native became Pennsylvania’s second president, following the much-maligned James Buchanan. Ironically, Biden became president largely because of Trump’s vacant leadership to combat the coronavirus, arguably the worst such failure since Buchanan’s abdication of responsibility during the secession crisis. Now, 160 years later, a Pennsylvania leader gets a do-over in a time of national peril.
- Down-Ballot Republicans: Whether it was the message of reopening the economy, pandemic fatigue, better field organization, more committed voters, or a new ballot design, state Republicans fared well. They captured the Treasurer and Auditor General offices for the first time in two decades and held on to their sizable majorities in the state legislature. Governor Wolf is in for a rough final two years in office.
- Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar: Boockvar did her best to expand access to the ballot. She represents the thousands of state, county and precinct election workers, most of them volunteers, dedicated to making every vote count. Throughout the legal and political challenges hurled at her from President Trump and his allies, no evidence of systemic voter fraud was presented.
- John Fetterman: No one knows what lies in store for the Lieutenant Governor – Governor? U.S. Senator? Talk show host? King of Weed? Regardless, he established himself as an original whose future bears watching.
- President Trump: While Trump traveled the state proclaiming his administration had “turned the corner” in controlling COVID, coronavirus cases, hospital admissions, and deaths surged. On October 6 Pennsylvania’s weekly average of cases was 1,005. Two months later, the average was 8,920 cases.
- Republican Denialism: Rejecting both the Biden victory and COVID-19, Republican legislators held a super-spreader “hearing” in Gettysburg to host a Rudy Giuliani conspiracy-fest. Failing to stop the certification of election returns and under constant pressure from Trump, state GOP leaders issued a last-chance appeal to the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation to reject the Commonwealth’s pro-Biden electors.
- Rudy Giuliani: In addition to his Gettysburg appearance, the president’s personal lawyer held a farcical press briefing at the Four Seasons Total Landscaping “conference center.” He also presented a shambolic legal case reminiscent of the courtroom comedy My Cousin Vinny in U.S. District Court. However, whereas Vinny won his only case, the record of the president’s legal team is approaching one win, 50 losses.
- GOP Shenanigans: Instead of preserving and strengthening vote-by-mail, which they supported in 2019, state Republicans are working to restrict access to the polls. GOP failure to support pre-canvassing of ballots, prior to the election, enabled them to manufacture charges of voter fraud due to the slow counting of votes.
Though Pennsylvania produced a reversal-proof, 81,000 vote victory to Biden, Trump-induced doubts about election integrity will affect the legitimacy of elections to come.
Four years from now, if not sooner, the Keystone State may be called to rescue democracy again.