Pennsylvania Democrats bounce back with strong midterm showing

·Senior Writer

In Pennsylvania, Democrats recovered Tuesday from their disastrous showing in 2016. Two years ago, the Keystone State was part of Hillary Clinton’s supposed “blue wall” of states that she could count on as safely in her column. Instead it went to Donald Trump, in the first time a Republican had won since 1988. Additionally, Republican incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey held on for reelection and the GOP increased its margins in the state Legislature. With Democratic incumbents Gov. Tom Wolf and Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. both up for reelection in 2018, the outlook for the party was cloudy.

But efforts at candidate recruitment and on-the-ground organizing appeared to pay off Tuesday night, as Democrats took at least half of the state’s 18 congressional seats and both Wolf and Casey cruised to reelection.

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at a campaign rally for Pennsylvania candidates in Philadelphia on Sept. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at a campaign rally for Pennsylvania candidates in Philadelphia on Sept. 21, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Wolf won by 17 points, defeating Scott Wagner, a businessman and former state senator. Wagner’s campaign never really gained traction action against Wolf, making national headlines only when he threatened in a Facebook video to stomp on the incumbent’s face with golf spikes. The pair’s only debate was moderated by “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek.

Casey won his third Senate term by 13 points over Rep. Lou Barletta, an immigration hardliner who was outraised by $14 million. A main focus for Casey was his work protecting health care benefits for retired coal miners. He sided with Trump on tariffs meant to protect the state’s steel and aluminum industries.

Democrats in Pennsylvania also benefited after the state supreme court overturned a congressional map that was a partisan gerrymander favoring Republicans, giving them a margin of 13 to 5 in the state after the 2016 election. On Tuesday night, Democrats gained seats overall, and there are now four women in the group of 18, where there had been none.

The first victories from Democrats in the state came in 2017, where Philadelphia-area Democrats won seats on the Delaware County Council for the first time in decades, and captured offices in both Chester and Bucks counties. Western Pennsylvania activists saw their huge win in April, when Democrat Conor Lamb won a special election in a Pittsburgh-area congressional district Trump had carried by 20 points. As part of the redistricting, Lamb ended up in a more Democratic constituency, and he won reelection by 13 points.

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