Senate 2022: Pennsylvania, a truly Purple State
I should state upfront I’m not as confident of the tip at the end of this article than normal.
I’ve written before about the GOP’s apparently weak candidates for many winnable Senate seats, and the prospect of that helping the Democrats hold on to a New Hampshire Senate seat. But how about Pennsylvania, where candidates will be selected next week?
Even more than New Hampshire, this is a genuinely purple state. Won by Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020. A Democratic Governor governs with a Republican state legislature. The state elected 18 members of Congress in 2020: nine from each party.
And the two Senators for the state are shared too, with the Republican up for re-election this year. Except he’s not running.
Shared Primary Struggles
In his absence, a series of somewhat underwhelming candidates have come forward. The frontrunner is Dr Oz, a celebrity doctor and Trump supporter who got the coveted nod from the former President himself. But despite that endorsement he’s stuck in a three-way race for the nomination. I try to keep these articles concise, so let’s just say that one thing all three of them have in common is that none of them have ever been elected to anything.
The Democrats haven’t had an ideal primary either. John Fetterman, the pretty progressive Lieutenant Governor, is cruising to victory over Conor Lamb, a moderate congressman who won a deep red House seat during the Trump years (a seat so red the incumbent ran unopposed quite often) and then won a different, more marginal seat twice since. Fetterman isn’t nearly as risky a pick as a couple of the candidates Republicans have to choose from, but he’s certainly the candidate they’d rather face.
A Paucity of Polling
For some reason, the pollsters aren’t particularly interested in the general election contest. In fact, we haven’t had a single poll this year as far as I can tell. So to decide on a favourite there’s just past performance and gut instinct to go by.
In 2016, the Republican Senator (who is now standing down) won a narrow 48-47% victory. In 2018 the Democrat stormed home 56-43%. Democrats certainly have the votes to win if they can put them together. Despite this, I think they are the underdogs.
2018 was a fantastic time to run for office as a Democrat. Trump was in the White House and unpopular, and Democratic turnout was sky high in almost every election during his term. 2022 is shaping up to be the opposite.
Furthermore, the electoral coalitions of the two parties are shifting in a way which makes states like Pennsylvania ta bit ougher for Democrats with each passing year. The Rust Belt has been Democrat for a few decades, but that was the blue-collar union membership Democratic base. Today, the Democrats rely on the votes of graduates and racial minorities more and more, while their traditional base is moving away from them (sound familiar?).
That’s not always a bad strategy. After all, the proportion of graduates is rising pretty quickly. But in states like Pennsylvania it’s turning a formerly blue state purple. It’s arguably the Democrats not the Republicans who need to overperform to win the state these days.
As for the betting markets, they agree. The Senate race, despite being for a Republican-held seat, is roughly a toss up. I think that’s roughly right, but given the national tailwinds Republicans have I’ve had a decent punt on them to win it. Democrats will be hoping the candidate quality makes the difference here, and I’ll bet on national factors overwhelming those every time. Sometimes you get caught out with that strategy, but it’s served me well overall.
Pip Moss posts on Political Betting as Quincel. He has bets on the Republicans holding the seat at around 9/10. You can follow him on Twitter at @PipsFunFacts