Democrats Hope To Keep Momentum Going For 2020 Election
Pennsylvania Democrats feel pretty good about the party’s 2020 presidential prospects because of the midterm elections, but even they know two years can dramatically alter political environments.
As much as the midterms centered on passionate feelings about Republican President Donald Trump, as much as Trump stumped to woo voters to back Republicans for his sake, his name did not appear on an actual election ballot anywhere.
In 2020, Republicans will likely nominate Trump again and he’ll have a chance to show the difference that he makes.
“That’s the critical question,” said G. Terry Madonna, Ph.D., the Franklin & Marshall College pollster and longtime analyzer of state politics.
For now, Democrats can rightly claim a lot went their way on the most recent Election Day in the Keystone State:
• U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, the Scranton Democrat, won a third term by more than 636,000 votes, or 12.8 percentage points, against U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, the Hazleton Republican, according to still unofficial results.
Gov. Tom Wolf, a York County Democrat, defeated fellow York County resident, Republican former state Sen. Scott Wagner, by an even larger margin, almost 836,000 votes, or 16.8 points. Trump won the state by 44,292 votes, a mere three-quarters of a point.
• Democrats won 14 Republican-held state House seats and lost only three seats to Republicans for a net gain of 11, reducing the Republican House majority to 110-93.
In the 203 House races, Democratic candidates outpolled Republicans by almost 369,000 votes.
• Democrats won five Republican-held state Senate seats and lost none of their own, reducing the Republican Senate majority to 29-21. Republicans had a veto-proof majority of 34 seats for the last two years. In the 25 Senate races, Democrats received more than 194,000 more votes than Republicans.
• Democrats picked up three more congressional seats, drawing them even with Republicans at nine apiece and helping the party regain control of the House.
Republicans had outnumbered Democrats 13 to 5 in the state congressional delegation for years. Democrats gained an edge this time partly with a favorable congressional redistricting ordered in February by a Democratic-majority state Supreme Court. Democratic congressional candidates received more than 490,000 more votes than Republicans, according to the latest unofficial results.
“I think we have a lot of momentum that may not have been apparent before Election Day,” Casey said.
Momentum now is fine, but Democrats need it in 2020.
Madonna remembered midterms that went against presidents Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
“Reagan lost (28) seats, Clinton lost (54) in ’94 and Obama lost 63 in 2010 and all three won re-election handily,” Madonna said. “The Democrats are going to go through quite a nomination contest. It’s going to be brutal.”
All that’s true, Casey said.
“There’s no question there’s a history of presidents rebounding, but I’ve never seen more of a shift from one election to the other and it’s not four or five counties here or there that aren’t big voting counties,” Casey said. “Just the Philadelphia suburban change ... that is just an extraordinary explosion of votes.”
One in five state voters live in the four suburban Philadelphia counties — Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery. That makes winning them vital.
In 2012, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won the four by 14 percentage points. Casey won them by almost 25 points, Wolf by more than 28.
“How does he (Trump) reduce that number?” Casey asked. “It’s just very difficult to see how he turns that around.”
All 14 state House seats and four of the five Senate seats Democrats flipped are in the southeast suburban counties.
Undoubtedly, Pennsylvania will play a huge role in the 2020 presidential race. First, no Democrat has won the White House without winning Pennsylvania since Harry Truman in 1948 when Republicans still outnumbered Democrats here by almost one million voters. Second, Trump’s victory here, with 916,000 more Democrats than Republicans, marked the first Republican win since 1988. Democrats can’t let it happen again.
“Pennsylvania is going to be one of the four or five states that are going to be on everybody’s radar. Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida,” Madonna said. “We’re a major player in the next presidential election.”
If Casey — as he suggested Thursday and Friday he might — runs for president himself or even if he doesn’t, his path to his third Senate term can point the way for a Democratic nominee.
He and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf ran well ahead of 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in all 67 counties. Besides Philadelphia and its suburbs, they topped Clinton in the southwest, northwest and northeast where Trump ran up huge numbers.
“It may well show that Trump voters aren’t as enthusiastic about Trump as they were in 2016,” Madonna said.
Then again, Casey and Wolf enjoyed huge financial advantages. Wolf outspent Wagner by at least $10 million and Casey had almost three times as much money as Barletta.
In a presidential campaign, money will matter less because both sides will have plenty of it.
The big wild card remains the identity of the Democratic nominee, said Robert Speel, chairman of political science at Penn State University, Behrend, near Erie.
“If I had to predict right now, I would say the Democrats have a good chance of taking back Pennsylvania in 2020. But it is going to depend on the Democratic nominee and it is going to depend, I guess, how people feel about Donald Trump,” Speel said.
If the economy’s surge continues, Trump could look attractive again.
State Republican Party chairman Val DiGiorgio said if Democrats nominate a far-left candidate who backs sanctuary cities, opposes border controls, supports national health care and raising taxes, state voters won’t go for the Democrat. Republicans still did well in regions that have trended their way: the southwest, northwest and northeast, DiGiorgio said.
“We have to make sure that we have a message for suburban voters” he said. “And we have to have a message that reaches out to these highly affluent voters who traditionally voted Republican but did not in this election ... I think we have to come out of the box stronger, quicker and more united.”
They better, because Democrats look ready for the fight.
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