Here's why the nation will be watching Pa. on Election Day – GoErie.com
The polls open tomorrow for midterms that will, in part, define the next four years in Harrisburg and the second half of President Joe Biden‘s term in Washington, D.C.
In the commonwealth, top-ticket races include a gubernatorial contest headlined by Republican Doug Mastriano and Democrat Josh Shapiro, and a bid to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R) that’s centered on Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz and Democrat John Fetterman. Several third-party candidates are also on the ballot in these races, but none have garnered support above a few percentage points in USA TODAY Network/Suffolk University polling this cycle.
Surveys suggest that Mastriano is a heavy underdog to Shapiro in the race to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. The Senate contest has seen Fetterman lose a fairly substantial lead to Oz in recent weeks, and the race is now considered a “Toss Up” by national analysts with the Cook Political Report.
Should he defy the polls, the party bosses and conventional wisdom to win the governorship, Pennsylvanians can expect a lurch to the right in policy from Harrisburg under a Mastriano administration.
The GOP state senator signed onto dozens of bills vetoed by Wolf since joining the General Assembly in 2020. His governorship would likely give the green light to many or all of these measures, which include restrictions on trans athletes in sports, more lenient gun laws and the expansion of poll watching.
Mastriano’s candidacy has also been notable because of his status as a figure in the congressional select committee’s investigation of the Capitol riot that took place Jan. 6, 2021.
A participant in the protests that preceded the violence, Mastriano’s been accused of collaborating with the Donald Trump White House on a fake elector scheme to negate Biden’s win in the 2020 election. He has since floated controversial, and constitutionally questionable, ideas such as forcing all Pennsylvanians to re-register to vote in the name of election integrity.
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The Defend Democracy Project, an organization founded by a pair who worked for the campaign and administration of former President Barack Obama, and other organizations have deemed Mastriano a top threat to democracy for some of his more extreme positions. Mastriano has fueled speculation on whether he’ll accept the results of this race, should he lose, by declining to comment.
Some change, though far less dramatic, can be expected under a Shapiro administration as well.
The Democratic attorney general has broken with Wolf in expressing support in concept for the kind of Lifeline Scholarship Program advanced by Republican lawmakers. This program would give tax dollars to families in low-performing districts to help their children attend private schools.
Shapiro is also calling for a $250-per-vehicle gas tax rebate for car owners and more aggressive tax cuts, including an accelerated plan to reduce corporate net income tax and the elimination of “nuisance” fees such as the commonwealth’s cellphone tax.
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His positions on school choice and tax cuts, typically more closely associated with Republicans, underscore Shapiro’s efforts to depict his campaign as the more moderate and centrist. Any moves to the left could be thwarted by a Legislature that’s likely to remain controlled by the GOP, absent several Democratic gains in both the House and Senate of the commonwealth.
The inflation crisis may not have come from Pennsylvania — but we have a responsibility to address it here, and bring down costs for working families.
I have a plan to do it, and put money back in your pockets. Doug Mastriano doesn’t. pic.twitter.com/D3KuH22gg9
Critics of the attorney general, such as the conservative Commonwealth Foundation, have attempted to tie him to unpopular national Democrats such as the president. A recent USA TODAY Network/Suffolk University poll indicates that 51% of Pennsylvanians disapprove of Biden’s job in the White House and a plurality, 46%, say the commonwealth’s economy is in poor shape.
The Pennsylvania Senate race has drawn national attention because of its potential to change the balance of power in the federal government and shape national politics in coming years.
Fetterman has encouraged Pennsylvanians to make him the critical “51st vote” that would enable Democrats to retain the slimmest of majorities in the 100-member U.S. Senate. On the other hand, losing control of the chamber could make it near-impossible for Biden to advance his agenda and bog down the process of filling judicial vacancies in the second half of his term.
If elected to the Senate, the Democrat would bring his experience from serving 13 years as mayor of Braddock, a small borough near Pittsburgh, and from his four years as Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor.
Fetterman has portrayed himself during the race as someone who would stick up for ordinary Americans by voting to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour and cracking down on corporate greed.
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As people grapple with rising living expenses, Fetterman has blasted companies for “price gouging” and says he would support prosecuting executives who are profiting by driving up the cost of gas or food.
He’s also vowed to protect the “union way of life” and said he would support the fracking industry, a reversal from his previous stance on natural gas extraction. During his last Senate run in 2016, Fetterman called for a moratorium on drilling until Pennsylvania passed stronger environmental regulations and imposed an excise tax on the industry; though the commonwealth has tightened fracking rules, it has not instituted a tax.
The Senate filibuster, a procedural tactic used to block the vote on certain bills, has stymied progress on many fronts, Fetterman argues. He’s said that if elected, he would try to eliminate the filibuster.
Preserving abortion rights has been a central plank in Fetterman’s platform, and he says as senator, he would work to pass a federal law codifying Roe vs. Wade.
Fetterman’s health has been a source of concern for some voters, after the Democrat in May suffered a stroke that nearly took his life. He underwent surgery to install a pacemaker and was off the campaign trail for weeks while he recovered.
In August, he returned to campaigning — holding rallies and doing interviews — but continues to struggle with auditory processing issues that can affect his speech. He’s released two physician’s letters saying he is healthy enough to serve in public office, but Oz and media outlets have urged Fetterman to share more detailed medical records.
An Oz victory would allow Republicans to remain in control of this Pennsylvania Senate seat as the party strives to capture a majority in the upper chamber.
The cardiothoracic surgeon became a household name as a regular on the Oprah Winfrey show and later by hosting his own daytime TV program, but he has never held public office.
He’s called attention to issues of public safety during the race, decrying the violence and drug abuse in Philadelphia and other cities. His multi-part plan for addressing these problems calls for categorizing fentanyl as a schedule 1 drug, along with substances such as heroin and LSD.
He supports increasing criminal penalties for carjackings and for illegally possessing firearms, providing more funding for neighborhood safety initiatives and increasing resources for recruiting police officers and helping departments investigate crime.
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Expanding fracking activity in Pennsylvania is a significant part of Oz’s strategy for strengthening the commonwealth’s economy.
The Republican has condemned the Biden administration for restricting the industry and demanded the “freedom to frack,” arguing that taking full advantage of natural gas resources would send a wave of prosperity across the Keystone State.
Like Fetterman, though, Oz’s current position on fracking doesn’t match some of his former, less-approving statements about the industry. Before entering politics, the doctor co-authored several columns expressing concern about the health impacts of natural gas extraction and calling for government restrictions.
Though Oz campaigned as a Trump-loyalist during the primary, he’s tried to appeal to moderate voters in the general election.
In a leaked audio recording of a primary campaign event, Oz compared abortion at any stage of a pregnancy to “murder.” But during the general election, the candidate hedged when asked whether he would support a national 15-week abortion ban, saying he thinks states, not the federal government, should regulate the procedure. He has repeatedly avoided giving a yes-or-no answer to the question of whether he would vote for a federal ban.
Because the million-plus mail-in votes can’t legally be prepared for scanning until Election Day, delays in the final counts are expected.
Ari Mittleman, executive director of the nonprofit Keep Our Republic, said he won’t be surprised if there are legal challenges to the results, particularly if races are close. He moderated a webinar last week with three former federal judges appointed by presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama.
“We need to be patient,” Mittleman said. “There’s a system and a process … and we need to trust the process.”
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Another potential complication is the confusion surrounding misdated or undated mail-in ballots.
Justices with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania were split 3-3 last week on whether these should be disqualified. Election officials are being directed to separate them and leave them uncounted until the matter is settled — which may require an act of the Supreme Court of the United States.
“This is utter chaos,” said John Jones III, former judge of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
Bruce Siwy and Bethany Rodgers are reporters for the USA TODAY Network’s Pennsylvania state capital bureau. They can be reached at email@example.com and at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @BruceSiwy and @BethMRodgers.