Pennsylvania’s preliminary results reflect voters fed up with institutionalized politicians

    Several states across the United States held primaries on Tuesday, but none may have been more closely watched — or received more media attention — than the one in Pennsylvania. In these questions and answers, Thomas Gifta native of Keystone State, explains why Pennsylvania is a leader in national politics and why all eyes should be on it to understand what might happen in the 2022, 2024 elections and beyond.

    You are from Pennsylvania originally. What should those unfamiliar with the state know about its policies?

    The joke about Pennsylvania (attributed to Democratic strategist James Carville) is that “Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Alabama are in between.” As with the rest of the country, the urban areas tend to be heavily democratic, while the large rural part of the state is predominantly Republican. As a “purple” state, the “Palestinian Authority” (as we call it) is often seen as a leader in the country’s direction politically. In 2016, the state voted for Donald Trump, but in 2020, it nominated Joe Biden. Recently, it has also been the focus of controversy over Trump’s unfounded allegations of vote rigging. In my opinion, Pennsylvania is truly ground zero when it comes to understanding some of the most important trends unfolding in American politics, including polarization, distrust of Washington, and Trump’s continued attraction. That’s why Tuesday’s primaries were so revealing.

    I’ve spent the last month on the ground in the Palestinian Authority closely watching the primaries. What is your impression on Tuesday?

    First, acknowledgment: I’m from Alabama PA – an overwhelmingly Republican (Chambersburg) small town in the south-central part of the state – so I admit my view is a bit skewed. But at least here, what amazes me most is the extent to which Trumpism is still the only game in town. It is impossible not to acknowledge the continued enthusiasm for MAGA. “America First” signs are everywhere. Trump flags dotted countless homes. Just a couple of blocks from where I’m staying, you can see an array of home decor (let’s call it “aggressive”), from letters “F&*k Biden” to “Trump 2024: He will be back”. “Trump 2020: The Sequel” is a favorite in the region. Wherever you look, it looks like Republican voters are gearing up for a fight — not just for 2022, but also for 2024.

    Let’s talk about some specific races. First, what’s going on with the contested Republican primary race for the Senate?

    For now, the race is still very close to the connection between former famous doctor Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick. No one was surprised that the fight had reached such a high level that it could lead to a recount. Polls predicted a tight race, and the amounts of money and attention given to the competition reflect its importance at the national level. Oz got Trump’s coveted endorsement, but the truth is that the entire race was about which candidate could “outperform” the other Trump. That’s also true of McCormick – nicknamed “moderate” – running ads with motorcyclists (full of black leather jackets and bands) behind him proudly waving Trump flags. The third-place candidate in the “ultra-MAGA” race was Cathy Barnett, who was a far-right flamethrower during the primaries.

    On the Democratic side, the Senate primary race was even more unbalanced. What happened there?

    PA Deputy Governor Jon Fetterman, a 6’9 Harvard graduate who wears black hoodies and oversized basketball shorts (who also suffered a stroke a few days before the election), came easily ahead. He beat Connor Lamb, the real-life US Congressman halfway through with a great (and much more traditional) resume. Fetterman may be the most interesting candidate that Pennsylvania (and the country) has seen in a while. He does not look like a “typical” politician, but his modest working-class “feelings” resonated clearly with liberal voters. Despite his support for Bernie Sanders and his (mostly) alliance with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, he has also taken more centrist positions on some issues, such as support for fracking in the Palestinian Authority (a huge issue in the state that angers environmentalists).

    “20131105-092315” (CC BY-NC 2.0) by weaverphoto

    Who won the Pennsylvania primaries?

    As evidence of Trump’s dominance in Pennsylvania, GOP candidate Doug Mastriano (who happens to be from my home, Franklin County), cleaned up on Tuesday. He is a far-right Republican – “My Father’s Law” – who has been trafficked in conspiracy theories, attended the January 6 rally in the capital, and has arguably done more than anyone in the Palestinian Authority to promote Trump’s false allegations of election fraud in 2020. He’s also a strong advocate Anti-abortion. Although many experts predict that Mastriano is too right-wing to win the general election, I’m not entirely convinced. He will compete next November with Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who emerged from the primaries unchallenged. Shapiro would be a strong opponent. He has a long record of accomplishment in Pennsylvania politics and is popular with Democrats across the board.

    What is the main lesson of the Palestinian Authority primaries?

    With a few notable exceptions, Pennsylvania seems to be tired of “establishment” politicians. On the Republican side especially, it is clear that it is impossible to run as an anti-Trump candidate and expect to win. While spending time in heavily Republican territory last month may color my view, I feel the energy among GOP voters is stronger than it is for Democrats (a point reflected in the much higher increases in Republican voter turnout on Tuesday). There is still a lot that could happen between now and the midterms, but given the national trends showing Biden’s unpopularity – combined with the fact that the party that has been out of power historically has been poor in out-of-year elections – I would be surprised if the PA was a state Where the Republicans do well. However, the looming controversy over Roe vs. Wade could still throw a wrench in some races.

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    Note: This article presents the author’s views, not the position of the USAPP – American Politics and Politics, nor the London School of Economics.

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    About the author

    Thomas GiftUCL
    Thomas Gift is associate professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, where he is director of the Center for American Politics (CUSP).