A split de­ci­sion by vot­ers in midterms

The Community Connection - - OPINION - By G. Terry Madonna and Michael L. Young

Elec­tions have con­se­quences. But some­times those con­se­quences are nei­ther clear nor ob­vi­ous. Nov. 6 was such an elec­tion.

As widely an­tic­i­pated, Penn­syl­va­nia Democrats played a piv­otal role in na­tional re­sults help­ing win con­trol of the fed­eral House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. Statewide Democrats picked up 3 seats, re­vers­ing the 12-6 Repub­li­can con­trol to a 9-9 party split with the Democrats in the Penn­syl­va­nia del­e­ga­tion. The big­gest gains came in the Philadel­phia suburbs and the Le­high Val­ley.

The Demo­cratic per­for­mance also daz­zled in the so-called top of the ticket con­tests.

In­cum­bent Sen. Bob Casey cruised to vic­tory by a mar­gin of 56 to 43 over Lou Bar­letta. Casey has now won six statewide elec­tions, two as Au­di­tor Gen­eral, one as Trea­surer, and now his third as a U.S. Sen­a­tor. None of these elec­tions were even close.

Casey has emerged as one his party’s lead­ing crit­ics of Pres­i­dent Trump, while sup­port­ing the pres­i­dent’s po­si­tions on trade and tar­iffs — sup­port that trans­lated into thou­sands of votes in those parts of the state with a large pro­por­tion of work­ing men and women in the old min­ing and mill town coun­ties.

Re-elected Gov. Tom Wolf sim­i­larly coasted to a near record vic­tory 58 to 41 over op­po­nent Scott Wag­ner. End­ing his first term with a job per­for­mance north of 50 per­cent, Wolf’s easy vic­tory should not sur­prise.

He also had an op­po­nent in Scott Wag­ner who could not find an is­sue that res­onated with vot­ers, while Wag­ner’s cam­paign suf­fered end­lessly from self-in­flicted wounds mainly ad­min­is­tered by the can­di­date him­self. State Democrats have now won four of the last five gu­ber­na­to­rial elec­tions.

Democrats also scored im­pres­sive and his­toric vic­to­ries adding four women to the state’s con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion. Pre­vi­ously the del­e­ga­tion had never in­cluded more than two women at the same time.

But state Re­pub­li­cans also won by not los­ing de­ci­sively, no­tably in the state Leg­is­la­ture. They en­tered elec­tion day with 121 seats in the House, with 102 be­ing the op­er­a­tional ma­jor­ity.

In the state Se­nate the GOP held 34 of 50 seats, with 26 seats be­ing a ma­jor­ity. House Repub­li­can num­bers now have been re­duced to 110 seats, los­ing 11 seats, and 29 seats in the Se­nate, a loss of 5 seats.

Still, that leaves Re­pub­li­cans firmly in con­trol of both cham­bers of the Leg­is­la­ture. Con­tin­ued Repub­li­can dom­i­nance of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly means Penn­syl­va­nia will con­tinue to have di­vided gov­ern­ment.

And Re­pub­li­cans ul­ti­mately pre­vailed in sev­eral hard­fought con­gres­sional races — par­tic­u­lar in the 1st Con­gres­sional dis­trict cen­tered in Bucks County, the 10th Dis­trict cen­tered in York/Dauphin Coun­ties, and the 16th Dis­trict cen­tered in the north­west­ern part of the state.

Each of these was heav­ily tar­geted by Democrats but they came up short in all three, min­i­miz­ing what could have been a big­ger dis­as­ter for the Re­pub­li­cans.

Na­tion­ally, Re­pub­li­cans not only re­tained the U.S. Se­nate, but picked up at least two seats from Democrats, giv­ing the GOP firm con­trol of the up­per cham­ber. GOP gains in the Se­nate while los­ing the House was his­tor­i­cally sig­nif­i­cant in a midterm elec­tion..

So, over­all a big night for the Democrats but far from a man­date. In Penn­syl­va­nia, Re­pub­li­cans still con­trol both Houses of the leg­is­la­ture com­fort­ably while na­tion­ally a Trump can­di­dacy for re-elec­tion in 2020 is buoyed sig­nif­i­cantly by the seats his party picked up in the U.S. Se­nate.

We now have a di­vided gov­ern­ment both in Harrisburg and Wash­ing­ton — and a di­vided elec­torate pro­vided it. Much was set­tled elec­tion day but much more re­mains un­set­tled.

A split de­ci­sion doesn’t mean there was no de­ci­sion. But it does mean the elec­torate de­cided to re­main un­de­cided — and the coun­try re­mains em­bat­tled in its bit­ter­est po­lit­i­cal strug­gle since the late six­ties and the Viet­nam War civil rights era.

Such divi­sion with its chronic di­vi­sive­ness and par­ti­san wran­gling can’t en­dure in­def­i­nitely if Amer­i­can ex­cep­tion­al­ism is to re­main ex­cep­tional.

The 2020 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion now looms as our next best chance to de­cide who we are as a na­tion — and where we want to go.

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