Here's a labeled county map of Pennsylvania to serve as a key to the maps below:
Now, since I'm (a) a Republican and (b) a believer in getting the most unpleasant part of the task done first...
The Judicial Races :-(
There were three vacancies on the state Supreme Court this year, because one judge reached the mandatory retirement age, one improperly used state resources for her election campaign (and had to send handwritten apologies to every judge in the state as a punishment), and another (who rose to prominence by having a special court for unruly Eagles fans) was caught forwarding pornographic emails. Can things get any worse?
Okay, now I feel better.
There was also one vacancy each on the Superior Court and Commonwealth Court. For Supreme Court, each voter had three votes, with the top three candidates winning (so I'm showing the top three candidates for each county); for the other two positions, each voter had one vote. Democrats won all five of the judicial elections:
(All election data from the Pennsylvania Department of State, unless otherwise specified.)
The Republican nightmare scenario occurred: the Democrats held onto their traditional strongholds in the southwest while winning suburban Philadelphia, the same combination that sank Rick Santorum in 2006. Combined, the three Democratic Supreme Court candidates received about 55% of the vote to the Republicans' 42.5%, with independent Paul Panepinto getting about 2.5%. The Superior and Commonwealth Court races were both about 53-47% Democratic. The Republicans made some geographic inroads in the lower court races: Delaware County, where Republicans are stronger in local elections than national ones, went for both Lalley and Giordano, while Giordano carried his home base in the Lehigh Valley. Looking at the top individual vote-getters in the Supreme Court race shows more geographic patterns:
David Wecht, from Pittsburgh, did well in the southwest, like he did in his 2011 election to the Superior Court. Kevin Dougherty, the brother of a prominent Philadelphia union official, did well in Philadelphia and its suburbs. On the Republican side, the bar association trumped Penn State. Of all the counties where a Republican was the top candidate, Judy Olson, who earned a "highly recommended" rating, was the top candidate in all but one (Mike George's home county of Adams). Anne Covey, who became prominent with a ruling on the NCAA's fine against Penn State and earned the endorsement of Franco Harris, trailed Olsen throughout the state.
The Turnout Question
|Source for 2012 data: uselectionatlas.org|
In every county, there was a significant drop in turnout from the 2012 Presidential election to the 2015 judicial elections. From the county totals, it doesn't seem like turnout favored either party. Turnout was down in Philadelphia, but also in heavily Republican Lancaster and York counties, and up (or, at least, less down) in both red and blue counties.
In most Pennsylvania counties, parties nominate two candidates for county commissioner, and voters get two votes each, but the top three candidates are elected, to give the minority party a voice. After a net gain of eleven counties in 2011, the GOP held its own this year, managing a slight gain despite the dismal judicial results:
|Source: County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania|
Two caveats are in order: Washington County is heading toward a recount, and Northumberland County previously had one Republican, one Democratic, and one independent commissioner, not two Democrats and a Republican.
|The Northumberland County Board of Commissioners, 2011|
The Democrats did manage to win back Westmoreland, Cambria, and Centre counties. This, along with the judicial results, suggests that there's still some life left in the Democratic party in western Pennsylvania. Whether Hillary Clinton or whoever the Democrats nominate for the Senate next year is able to capitalize on this next year, when national issues will be more prominent, remains to be seen.
Silver Linings for Republicans:
- At the county level, the GOP managed to hold onto several counties in the eastern part of the state: three of the four "collar counties" around Philadelphia, both Lehigh Valley counties, and the swing counties of Schuylkill, Carbon, and Monroe.
- Republican Guy Reschenthaler won a special election to the state Senate from the 37th district in suburban Pittsburgh, increasing the Republican majority to 31-19, the biggest since 1954. Democrats might make up for it by taking the seat of Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware Co.), who was elected to a county judge position last week (Pileggi is a former mayor of Chester, so he has now pulled off the governing trifecta of serving in all three branches. Someone should send him a fruit basket.). However, Republicans could expand their majority even further next year. The Democratic-held 15th and 35th districts, based in Harrisburg and Johnstown respectively, look to be competitive, while the Democrats don't have any other obvious targets.
- The Democrats had a heavy fundraising advantage this year; their three Supreme Court candidates raised a total of $8.1 million through October, compared to just under $2 million for the Republicans. By contrast, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R) had $8.6 million in cash on hand last month compared to a combined $3.45 million for his three Democratic rivals (who have a primary to go through). Last week's results should encourage Democrats about their chances against Toomey (in the interests of full disclosure, a former employer of mine), but so far, the money advantage is the reverse of this year.
- It's still a year until the Presidential and Senate elections (not to mention the House, General Assembly, and state row offices), and the Republicans have seen just how far behind they are on get-out-the-vote efforts. If they learn from last week (admittedly, a big "if"), the biggest silver lining will be that this occurred in 2015 and not 2016.