Pennsylvania Republicans Blew It. Now What?
By Athan Koutsiouroumbas for RealClearWire
A trope commonly used in both dating and sales is that “No response is a response.”
Some interpret the lack of a response as indecision, resulting in a strategy of trying harder and louder. Effective organizations and leaders understand, however, that no response is a clear, albeit quiet, notice of rejection. In turn, they adapt.
In what was poised to be a historic wave election for Pennsylvania Republicans, statewide candidates suffered losses so staggering that they affected down-ballot races. While there were some bright spots, such as Congressman Mike Kelly’s resounding win and the Pennsylvania State Senate remaining firmly in Republican control, the 2022 midterms were a major setback.
What happened? Pennsylvania’s Republicans simply did not vote.
With the national environment shaping up to be a referendum on the Biden administration’s policies, most observers were convinced that Republicans would vote in record numbers to express their discontent. It didn’t happen.
In the Democratic stronghold of Philadelphia, where nearly a quarter of the Commonwealth’s likely Democratic voters cast ballots, Republican United States Senate candidate Mehmet Oz will likely lose by a mere 320,000 votes. The GOP was in position to win big and blew it.
Republican turnout fell woefully short of wave expectations, possibly underperforming by more than 250,000 votes, or 10%.
By opting not to vote, Pennsylvania Republican voters chose “No Response” as their message to party leaders. Why Republicans didn’t come out in greater numbers is the subject of much speculation. Some suggested explanations follow.
Candidate quality: Republican gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano ran the most unconventional campaign in modern Pennsylvania history as a major-party candidate. And Pennsylvanians don’t have a history of electing celebrity candidates like Dr. Oz, especially after a bruising primary in which opponents laid bare Oz’s political liabilities. The top of the Republican ticket, which typically drives turnout, left much to be desired.
Abortion: In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, pro-life advocates advised the Republican-controlled legislature to pass a constitutional resolution empowering voters to decide if abortion access is a state constitutional right. The strategy may be legally sound, but it proved politically inopportune. The vote enabled Democrats to frame the election as a referendum on the future legality of abortion, as opposed to what abortion procedures should be legal. In a state where most voters support some form of abortion access, the resolution may have discouraged some voters from voting Republican and kept other Republicans away from the polls.
Mail-in ballots: The hesitancy of Republican voters to use mail-in ballots is rooted in their uneven application and enforcement throughout Pennsylvania, breeding distrust. Litigation is resolving various issues, and it is clear that mail-in ballots are here to stay. Republicans need to start using them.
Trump: Donald Trump seized headlines in the midterm’s final days, reminding voters, perhaps, that big Republican wins would pave the way for his return. Instead of voting to punish the Biden administration, many anti-Trump Republicans may have stayed home in protest.
“Post-political” status: From COVID to inflation to wokeism, the seemingly endless stream of government mismanagement and institutional failure may have kept many conservatives at home on Election Day. In contrast to liberal voters who have made political engagement a key form of self-expression, conservative voters who believe in limited government may have reached their breaking point and opted out of public affairs entirely.
The good news for Republicans is that these speculative causes can be remedied. In fact, Pennsylvania Republicans have bounced back before.
After Republican Barbara Hafer’s devasting loss to incumbent Democratic governor Bob Casey in 1990, Pennsylvania Republicans worked to rebuild their party from the ground up. Within three years, the efforts culminated in winning two United States Senate seats, the governor’s office, and a state House Republican majority.
For the GOP, it remains unclear who or what in Pennsylvania should lead the way, though there is little doubt about which direction to move.
The way back for Pennsylvania Republicans does not mean backtracking from conservative policies and positions. Quite the opposite: effective leadership with strong candidates has re-aligned both Ohio and Florida from their previous status as swing states into de facto red states. In neither instance did conservatives change their beliefs. The realigned GOP – pro-growth, pro-worker, and anti-woke – is a clear formula for long-term success. Republicans need to find a Pennsylvania-focused model that borrows from Ohio, Florida, and even Virginia.
Additionally, the deteriorating socioeconomic conditions that led many to predict a red-wave election are unlikely to be alleviated under the Biden administration, which has largely caused them. Pennsylvania Republicans will get another bite at the apple a little over a year from now, as potential candidates begin their primary election jockeying.
In choosing not to vote this November, Pennsylvania Republican voters sent a clear message. Time will tell if Republican leaders listen and adapt. The clock is ticking.
Syndicated with permission from RealClearWire.