“Nobody knows anything.”
When William Goldman wrote those words in his 1983 book, “Adventures in the Screen Trade,” he was referring to the moviemaking industry, but that oft-repeated line is a fitting epitaph for this election as well.
The vast majority of polls and pundits predicted a narrow Clinton victory and the likelihood of the Senate flipping back to Democratic control. Instead, this morning, people are either waking up to or trying to go to sleep in a completely changed political landscape.
And Pennsylvanians are no exception. Here is what happened at commonwealth polls other than a Trump victory:
The elephant in the room is, as it were, Pat Toomey’s narrow victory over Katie McGinty. As has been relentlessly chronicled, this has been the most expensive Senate race in US history: Together, the candidates (and their out-of-town backers) dropped over $160 million on the race.
The race notably revolved less around tangible Senate issues, instead focusing more on personal attacks and each candidate's association with the presidential contenders.
McGinty thrashed Toomey’s previous connections to Wall Street and tried her hardest to tie the Republican incumbent to Trump in hopes of poisoning his re-election chances through association.
Meanwhile, Toomey painted himself as a sentinel against terrorism, but spent much of the election walking an agonizing, politically convenient tightrope over whether he would support or actually vote for Trump – which he ultimately did, less than two hours before the polls closed.
His campaign ended with commercials bizarrely trumpeting President Obama and Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine’s past support of the Republican senator. He painted McGinty, a former Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection who went on to work for an energy company, as a well-connected lobbyist.
In the end, it was mostly for naught. Toomey finished ahead – just – with 48.3 percent of the vote, just over one percent more than McGinty, in an early-morning decision that left the Democrat’s staffers in tears.
Pre-primary polling showed McGinty at 39 percent to Toomey’s 46 percent. So, if anyone ever asks you what $160 million can buy, the answer is a couple percentage points worth of PA’s electorate.
Democratic Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro and Republican state Sen. John Rafferty faced off in the shadow of Kathleen Kane’s disastrous run as Attorney General. Shapiro and Rafferty, also from Montgomery County, each promoted their ability to remake the office, sparring primarily over the issue of gun control.
Despite his fellow Democrat’s implosion, Shapiro seemed largely untouched by Kane’s scandal-riddled run as the state’s top law enforcement official and enjoyed early endorsements from national Democratic figures like Obama and Clinton.
Ultimately, Rafferty seems to have been unable to fully project his name to key electoral districts across the state. He lost, 51.7 percent to 48.3 percent to Shapiro, with 97 percent of all precincts reporting.
Democratic state Rep. Steve Santarsiero’s quest to seize the advantage in PA’s only competitive congressional race likely came down to the question of what’s in a name.
Former FBI agent Brian Fitzpatrick unexpectedly dropped into the race after his brother, Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, resigned to underscore his support for term limits. The race brought significant attention and cash from disparate national groups looking to back the two relative political neophytes – Santarsiero was first elected in 2009, while the junior Fitzpatrick has never served in public office.
The race revolved around security issues as a proxy to national anxieties over terrorism and immigration, but names are powerful, too. Fitzpatrick won handily, be it for his last name or his experience at the FBI, 54.6 to 45.4 percent, with 85 percent of precincts reporting.
This was one of the more crowded contests in the state, with four candidates – Republican Otto Voit, Democrat Joe Torsella, the Green Party’s Kristin Combs and the Libertarian Party's James Babb. But for all intents and purposes, it became a two-man race between Voit and Torsella to replace Democrat Rob McCord, who stepped down last year just before pleading guilty to federal charges of attempted extortion.
Both Voit, who has never run for political office before, and Torsella, who held key positions in Philadelphia city government and at the United Nations, favored more transparency in the commonwealth’s financial dealings, as well as making a college education more attainable. In the end, Torsella’s better name recognition might have made the difference, as he defeated Voit by a 51.3 percent to 43.6 percent margin, with 96 percent of all precincts reporting.
Democratic Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has made a name for himself with a nonstop raft of reports savaging, among other targets, the state’s charter school laws, an audit of the Philadelphia Parking Authority and the state’s child abuse hotline failures. Given his high-profile position and a clean sweep of major media endorsements in the state, his victory over Northampton County executive John Brown by a 4-point margin – with 96 percent of all precincts reporting – doesn’t come as a big surprise.
35th Senatorial District, Cambria County
PA Democrats knew things weren’t looking good when longtime incumbent John Wozniak suddenly resigned from his Western PA district. Rumors swirled that internal polling wasn’t looking good for the Democrat, while Wozniak said he was just tired.
Wozniak’s putative replacement, Cambria County controller Ed Cernic, struggled uphill in a district that may have already begun shifting in Republicans’ favor long before he ever dropped into the race. He was crushed by Cambria County ADA Wayne Langerholc, who campaigned effectively on an anti-tax platform, by 35 points.
15th Senatorial District, Dauphin County
PA Sen. Rob Teplitz won an upset victory in 2014, taking a seat held by the GOP for nearly a century, immediately earning the ire of Republicans. The youthful lawyer ran a hard-fought race against Republican businessman John DiSanto, and narrowly trailed the GOP contender as of early Wednesday.
Despite an early-morning promise of victory from Teplitz, the race was ultimately called for DiSanto, in another upset.
9th Senatorial District, Delaware County
Democrats had hoped to unseat Tom Killion after he won a special election to succeed longtime GOP stalwart PA Sen. Dominic Pileggi by pitting newcomer Marty Molloy against him in this race to represent parts of Delaware and Chester counties.
Molloy, with a background in nonprofits, had a hard path to victory against Killion. He looks to have lost that fight in the early hours of Wednesday, with Killion ahead by thousands of votes.
19th Senatorial District, Chester County
Democratic Sen. Andrew Dinniman faced off against Jack London, the president and chief executive officer of the London Financial Group in West Chester. Democrats had expressed some anxiety over the race, but the 10-year incumbent handily fended off the Republican businessman, winning by more than 12 points.
49th Senatorial District, Erie County
Harrisburg newcomer Sen. Sean Wiley lost his seat to Republican Dan Laughlin, a contractor who painted himself as an outsider dedicated to upsetting the entrenched politics of Harrisburg.
Erie voters went for the latter candidate by nearly seven points, dumping incumbent Wiley after just one term in the Northwest PA seat.
Judicial Ballot Question
Despite questions over intent and wording, a ballot question that would raise the mandatory judicial retirement age by five years – from 70 to 75 – looked poised to narrowly pass.