MAP: Here’s where the Democrats’ expected Blue Wave didn’t break for Pa.’s elected row offices

By: - November 12, 2020 7:11 am

Pa. State Treasurer Joe Torsella this year became the first Democrat since 1994 to lose reelection to state-level office in Pennsylvania. (Image via Pa. Treasurer’s Office/Pittsburgh City Paper)

Pennsylvania voters may have been pivotal in sending a Democrat to the White House last week, but unofficial election results show that they were less enthusiastic about Democrats seeking statewide office.

Republicans are on track to win two of Pennsylvania’s three state-level row offices this year, according to unofficial tallies, flipping both the state auditor general and treasurer’s offices from Democratic control for the first time in more than a decade. 

These independently elected offices can exert regulatory power or oversight to rein in the governor and Legislature. 

Incumbent Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who was elected as Pennsylvania’s top law enforcement official in 2016, is the only Democrat to win statewide office this year. The Associated Press called his reelection bid against Pittsburgh trial attorney Heather Heidelbaugh on Friday with a 51-47 percent split. 

Treasurer Joe Torsella, whose office manages state finances, became the first incumbent Democrat since 1994 to lose reelection to a row office. Though the race remains uncalled, he conceded his race to GOP opponent Stacy Garrity on Tuesday. 

Republican candidate Timothy DeFoor won a vacant seat for auditor general, marking the first time since 1992 that a GOP candidate has been elected as the state’s top fiscal watchdog, according to the Associated Press

The state-level losses were the latest in a series of bruising down-ballot defeats for Pennsylvania Democrats. The party had also hoped to flip at least one chamber in the General Assembly this year, but Republicans are on track to increase their majorities in the House and Senate.

A Capital-Star analysis of data from the Pennsylvania Department of State found that Democrats running for statewide office suffered the most in areas that swung for Biden in the presidential race.

Take Cumberland County, which has Democratic concentrations in Carlisle and the suburbs close to Harrisburg. 

Even though Biden didn’t carry the county this year, its voters were crucial in sending him to the White House. They shifted 5 percentage points in favor of Democrats from the 2016 presidential race, one of the most dramatic swings in the state.

State data suggest those voters were quick to rescind their support from Democrats as they moved down the ballot, however. Row office candidates performed, on average, 3.55 points worse than Biden did in Cumberland County. 

Across the river in Dauphin County, Democratic row office candidates also failed to match Biden’s 54 percent lead. Auditor General candidate Nina Ahmad lost the county with 47 percent of the vote, and Torsella barely eked out 50 percent, unofficial tallies showed. 

Shapiro outperformed Biden by getting nearly 55 percent of the vote. 

Democrats saw the most precipitous shift in Chester County, where Biden received 58 percent of the vote. 

The Democratic row office candidates still commanded a majority with the suburban voters, but their support among voters fell by an average of 5.3 points compared to Biden. Ahmad barely broke 50 percent of the vote. 

Though the Democratic candidates suffered in areas that Biden carried, they did pick up votes in Republican strongholds where he floundered.

Every single Democratic row office candidate outperformed Biden in Greene County, where the president-elect got just 27 percent of the vote as President Donald Trump entrenched his support. Shapiro got 36 percent of the vote in Greene. 

Turnout in state-level races tends to be lower than the presidential one, which saw a record-high 6.75 million votes this year in Pennsylvania. 

That level of participation dropped by 85,000 votes in the race for attorney general, by 129,000 votes in the race for treasurer, and 138,000 votes in the auditor general contest. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.