Pennsylvania's other election-night story

Pennsylvania's other election-night story
© Getty Images

Last week’s election was an encouraging night for Republicans in Pennsylvania. In addition to capturing a statewide Superior Court seat, the GOP flipped six counties across the state from blue to red — including several surrounding Pittsburgh. 

No, this isn’t a misprint, but it’s also not the headline driving the political narrative. 

Instead, most election coverage focuses on the trouncing of Republicans in the Philadelphia suburbs. One prominent media outlet went so far as to call it a “bloodletting.”  


News reports heralded that in Delaware County, adjacent to Philadelphia, Democrats swept county council “for the first time since the Civil War.” The same was true in neighboring Chester County, a one-time Republican bastion that flipped from red to blue between 2016 and 2018, Democrats took control of the county Board of Commissioners for the first time in more than 150 years.  

Suburbs once ruby red have gone deep blue in the Keystone State — which will again be a key swing state in 2020.  

This, combined with election night results from states such as Virginia, has some raising alarm for the GOP’s prospects in Pennsylvania and other swing states in 2020. 

But to paraphrase Mark Twain, forecasts of the GOP’s imminent demise are an exaggeration. 

If you look at recent electoral and policy development in Pennsylvania, the Keystone State has actually been trending more conservative in several ways. 


For example, one story not making many headlines is that two judicial seats on Pennsylvania’s Superior Court — one of two statewide appellate courts — were also up for election this year. Pennsylvania is one of about a dozen states that hold partisan judicial elections. The election was tight, but Republican Megan McCarthy King secured the votes to win one of the seats. 

A Republican statewide victory in Pennsylvania bucks the prevailing narrative. 

Similarly, while Republican majorities shrunk in both the Pennsylvania House and Senate after 2018, the makeup of those majorities is more conservative, as many of the Republicans in the Philadelphia suburbs who lost often voted with Democrats.  

That’s not to say that President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders apologizes to Biden for supporter's op-ed Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive Democrats: McConnell impeachment trial rules a 'cover up,' 'national disgrace' MORE and the GOP don’t face a challenge in Pennsylvania’s suburban counties. They do — but they also have an opportunity. 

To reach suburban voters, the GOP must move beyond its typical talking points of “tax cuts” and “less government” and instead demonstrate how its policies lead to the most good for the most number of people. Republicans must rethink how they communicate and focus on effectively conveying how their vision and values match the values of suburban executives, families, and particularly women. 

For example, our organization has conducted focus groups with independent, swing voters in suburban counties in Pennsylvania, and these voters are far more interested in whether a policy proposal — or candidate’s platform — seems “fair” than with whether it will save taxpayer dollars. 

The leftward tilt in the suburbs is notable but not necessarily a predictor or guarantor of 2020. Most of the Democrats who succeeded in Pennsylvania on Election Day ran as moderate or traditional Democrats. One of Chester County’s top vote-getters, a Democrat, consistently campaigned on the theme that the county is great, but can do better.  

This mirrors last year’s special congressional election in western Pennsylvania, where Democrat Conor Lamb flipped a district from red to blue. Lamb ran as a pro-gun moderate.  

Substitute Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenJayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive Former health insurance executive: Current system is bankrupting country The American disease and death bowls MORE (D-Mass.) or Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders apologizes to Biden for supporter's op-ed Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive Former health insurance executive: Current system is bankrupting country MORE (I-Vt.), with their push for “Medicare for All” and calls to ban fracking, and it’s hardly a given that suburban support would be as enthusiastic, even among those who are not fans of President Trump.  

Notably, a survey released Nov. 7 by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Cook Political Report found 41 percent of voters in four key swing states (Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin) have yet to fully make up their minds on how they will cast their vote in 2020. And according to the same survey, these voters oppose universal Medicare and fracking bans. 

A separate New York Times/Siena College poll showed Democrats in swing states prefer a moderate nominee over a progressive one who would pull the party left.  

Certainly, the GOP would be foolish not to take notice of the results of post-2016 elections. But if off-year elections were predictors, our history books would have chapters on the one-term presidencies of Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonMcConnell proposes compressed schedule for impeachment trial Trump lawyers urge senators to swiftly acquit Trump in impeachment trial The American disease and death bowls MORE and Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaObama marks MLK Day by honoring King for his 'poetic brilliance' and 'moral clarity' Biden breaks away from 2020 pack in South Carolina National Archives says it altered Trump signs, other messages in Women's March photo MORE alongside the administrations of Bob Dole and Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyRomney pledges 'open mind' ahead of impeachment trial Juan Williams: Counting the votes to remove Trump Roberts under pressure from both sides in witness fight MORE.

This year’s elections are noteworthy because they demonstrate what worked in suburban areas and what didn’t. But those who observed 2019 in Pennsylvania should hold off writing their 2020 election night stories just yet.   

After all, there’s a reason Pennsylvania is called a swing state. 

Matthew J. Brouillette is president and CEO of Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, a membership association that engages entrepreneurs to lead free-market change in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter @MattBrouillette.