Blue dam holds back red wave

York Dispatch editorial board

There are plenty of votes still to be counted and the final balance of power in both Pennsylvania and Washington has yet to be determined, but one thing is clear following the closing of polls on Tuesday: The wave of Republican election victories that was promised so consistently and loudly by GOP operatives and right-leaning media failed to materialize.

While reliably conservative pockets in Pennsylvania like York County will send election-denying Republicans Lloyd Smucker and Scott Perry back to the House — and gave the lion’s share of their vote to GOP Senate candidate Mehmet Oz and gubernatorial hopeful Doug Mastriano — voters statewide handed decisive victories to their Democratic opponents, John Fetterman and Josh Shapiro, respectively.

Fetterman’s victory flipped the seat now held by outgoing Republican Pat Toomey and is a big reason Democrats have a chance to maintain control of the U.S. Senate.

Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, waves to supporters after addressing an election night party in Pittsburgh, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

And while Republicans are likely to take over the House of Representatives, their majority will be a handful and not the several dozen seats many were predicting. (And even that may not have been possible without blatant gerrymandering in states like Florida.)

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Inflation is stubbornly driving up the cost of gas and groceries. Fed-boosted interest rates are making big-ticket purchases like cars and homes less affordable and monthly credit-card bills more painful. And Republican candidates had been hammering an uptick in crime in cities like Philadelphia.

Add to that the reality that the party holding the White House historically loses a good number of House seats in its first off-year election — Bill Clinton lost 54 seats in 1994; Barack Obama lost 63 in 2010 — and Democrats were prepared for the worst.

The worst never came.

Republicans enjoyed their share of victories — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis cruised to reelection; Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp easily defeated repeat challenger Stacey Abrams; J.D. Vance claimed a Senate seat in Ohio — but, overall, the party underperformed.

Credit, in part, the Supreme Court. Its June decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade spurred enrollment and turnout among the largely Democratic-leaning voters who support abortion rights. In fact, reproductive rights were endorsed resoundingly, with voters in a number of states — including reliably red Kentucky — either approving measures to protect access to abortion or rejecting anti-abortion initiatives.

Reproductive rights are safer in Pennsylvania, as well, thanks to the election of Shapiro. Like his predecessor, outgoing Gov. Tom Wolf, the new governor will be able to use his veto pen to strike down attempts by the Republican-led legislature to chip away at reproductive rights.

Likewise, voting rights. Shapiro’s victory prevents election denier Mastriano from carrying out his promised meddling in Pennsylvania’s elections apparatus — a vital development in a swing state gearing up for the 2024 presidential race.

Mastriano, it must be pointed out, is one of a significant number of losing candidates endorsed by Donald Trump, reviving questions about the former president’s political capital. Recall, Republicans lost both houses of Congress and the White House under Trump, who has never won a popular vote. Many of his high-profile endorsees, including Oz in Pennsylvania and gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon in Michigan, failed spectacularly Tuesday. Others, like former NFL star Herschel Walker in Georgia, are treading water.

Trump is reportedly champing at the bit to announce his 2024 presidential campaign, but his increasingly dwindling political clout may do what two impeachments, a failed insurrection, thousands of lies and a legislatively disappointing four years in office couldn’t. Namely, help mainstream Republicans discover their spines and reject the divisive, reality-averse, hurtful brand of politics know as Trumpism.

One final note: Despite a few hiccups (Maricopa County, Arizona, we’re looking at you), the nation once again experienced a safe, secure and well-run national election. Returns were reported as quickly as could be expected. Concerns of violence proved unfounded. Tens of millions of voters cast ballots without issue.

It was a healthy and much needed antidote to the poisonous propagandists seeking to undermine confidence in state and national elections.