Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Franklin, speaks with attendees on the Capitol steps of a rally for gun rights on September 29, 2020 (Capital-Star photo).
Though their reasons and motivations may have differed, when they came out to the polls on Tuesday, Pennsylvania voters were sending a clear message about the people they want representing them in Washington and in Harrisburg.
They wanted someone who heard the voices of the state’s Black residents, and didn’t take their support for granted, as Kenny Payne, 60, of West Philadelphia, said last month when now Democratic Gov-elect Josh Shapiro stumped at a barber shop on Chestnut Street.
“Democrats have to know how to engage Black voters — especially young Black voters, and the issues that impact them,” Payne, who works in tech sales, told the Capital-Star as he waited for a trim at Philly Cuts. “We have to do something to get the young people engaged.”
They were looking for someone to stand as a bulwark against attacks on reproductive rights, as Alexandria Albrecht, 23, of Yardley, said on the Saturday before Election Day as she got ready to go door-knocking with some Planned Parenthood canvassers.
“No one should be forced to go through a pregnancy they don’t want,” Albrecht said. “It takes such a toll on a person’s body. And if you’re not ready for it, so many things will not be set for you. It’s not fair to anybody. It’s so dystopian.”
They were looking for someone to tear down barriers to economic opportunity and to create a space where, if the playing field was not entirely level, they were not running uphill, as Alex Hames III, of MainLine Focus, in Philadelphia, said.
Most of all they were looking for someone who could ease the worries and feed the hopes of every parent: That when they send their kids to school in the morning, they’d walk along safe streets and come home to them in one piece at day’s end.
“So many of the issues that impact Philadelphia are tied to money, power, and respect,” school administrator Will Mega said. “Power comes through a quality education. Respect is tied to love. And love is the ultimate way to end gun violence. You can’t kill someone you love.”
On every level, Pennsylvania Republicans failed to deliver.
Those the challenges facing Shapiro and U.S. Sen.-elect John Fetterman who each convincingly won victories on Tuesday night against GOP opponents who, each in their own way, were dramatically out of step with the majority of the state’s voters.
Fetterman, the current lieutenant governor, beat Republican celebrity surgeon Mehmet Oz, a longtime New Jersey resident whose efforts to outrun the wealthy carpetbagger label might well have been dealt the final blow when he didn’t know the Sunday before Election Day was a Steelers’ bye week.
“This campaign was for everyone who got knocked down and got back up,” Fetterman, who suffered a stroke just before the May primary, said as he repeated a line that became a fixture of the campaign’s closing weeks.
Fetterman is a far from perfect messenger. He, too, comes from wealth, and was supported by his parents for years while serving as the mayor of Braddock outside Pittsburgh.
Nonetheless, Fetterman’s blue-collar patter, which is underlined by unmistakably progressive values, connected with working-class voters in the southwestern Pennsylvania counties that went for former President Donald Trump in 2016.
More importantly, Fetterman outperformed President Joe Biden in those counties he carried in 2020, while Oz lagged Trump in turf that the former president won two years ago.
You’d be hard pressed to find a clearer signal that not even the GOP faithful in a ruby red county saw him as one of their own — even with Trump’s endorsement.
During his acceptance speech on Tuesday night, Shapiro cast his election as a choice between a government that would protect children and the vulnerable and defend reproductive rights, and an authoritarian regime that would gut reproductive freedoms, lay siege to voting rights and slash school funding.
“Opportunity won. A woman’s right to choose won. The right to organize here in Pennsylvania, that won,” Shapiro said from the stage of the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Montgomery County.
“Your right to vote won. And in the face of all the lies and conspiracies and baseless claims, you also ensured tonight that truth won right here in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Shapiro continued. “And you know what else won tonight? Real freedom won tonight.”
Shapiro’s nearly 14-point drubbing (based on unofficial tallies) of ultra-conservative Republican nominee Doug Mastriano, who has trafficked in baseless claims of election fraud and cloaked himself in Christian nationalism, strongly suggests that many Pennsylvania Republicans also want no part of the far-MAGA fringe.
As was the case with Oz, Mastriano underperformed in counties that Trump carried in 2020, such as Crawford County, which the former president carried with 68 percent of the vote two years ago. Mastriano lagged by 9 percentage points at 59 percent, unofficial tallies showed.
Shapiro also rolled past Biden on the president’s old home turf in Lackawanna County, taking 61 percent of the vote, according to unofficial tallies, to Biden’s 2020 total of 53.7 percent.
That result not only evidences a support that is both wide and deep, it’s also an unmistakable repudiation of the hard-right extremism that has poisoned and threatened to overwhelm our politics.
As he left a polling place in suburban Harrisburg on Tuesday morning, lifelong voter Bill Fulton, a Democrat, summed up the sentiment that ended up being on the minds of thousands of his fellow citizens on Election Day.
“I just want to reverse the tide of authoritarianism,” he said.
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