Republican US Rep. Lloyd Smucker of Lancaster County won reelection by a comfortable margin in last Tuesday’s midterm elections — he was challenged by Republican turned Democrat Bob Hollister — but a predicted “red wave” did not materialize. Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, defeated by far-right state Sen. Doug Mastriano by 14 points in the gubernatorial race, and Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman narrowly bested Republican Mehmet Oz in the race to succeed Republican Pat Toomey, who did not seek a third US Senate term. As of Friday morning, control of the Pennsylvania House remained unclear, as ballots still were being counted, though Democrats claimed earlier in the week they had won the majority for the first time in a dozen years. As LNP | LancasterOnline’s Tom Lisi noted in Friday’s edition, “The outcome of a few still-undeclared races could determine whether Bryan Cutler, the Drumore Township politician who serves as speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, will continue serving as one of the most powerful legislators in Harrisburg.”
It was no surprise that the mostly conservative Lancaster County voted for Doug Mastriano over Josh Shapiro. What was surprising — and heartening — was Mastriano’s narrow margin of victory in the county.
Indeed, “Mastriano’s two-point lead over Shapiro here amounted to the worst showing for a Republican gubernatorial candidate in modern history,” LNP | LancasterOnline’s Lisi reported Thursday.
This was heartening not because of Mastriano’s affiliation with the Republican Party, but because of his affiliation with Christian nationalists and other right-wing zealots.
Longtime county Republicans told LNP | LancasterOnline that Mastriano was a weak, fringe candidate — too extreme for many Lancaster County voters. Shapiro, by contrast, is a moderate Democrat, who put his considerable political skills to use in winning over voters both in Lancaster County and the essential Philadelphia suburbs.
Mastriano, an election denier who was on the grounds of the US Capitol when it was violently breached, spoke of decertifying voting machines and requiring registered voters to re-register. Shapiro spoke of protecting reproductive rights, health care and public education.
Mastriano declined interviews with mainstream journalists and courted the founder of a virulently antisemitic and racist social media platform. Shapiro was endorsed by numerous country-over-party Republicans who lauded his commitment to preserving democracy.
The members of this editorial board — and others, including Republican US Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming — viewed Mastriano as a clear and present danger to democracy. We’re relieved that his power will be diluted as just one of 50 members of the Pennsylvania Senate, that he will be railing against truth from the sidelines rather than wreaking havoc from the governor’s residence in Harrisburg.
Both Mastriano and Oz were backed by former President Donald Trump, who drew criticism last week from some Republicans for endorsing lousy candidates.
“If anything should be taken away from this election, it’s that we should be over Trump. If you’re not a Never Trumper yet, you should be an Over-Trumper now,” Matthew Brouillette, the head of Commonwealth Partners, an influential conservative group in the state, told The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Both Oz and Mastriano were “absolutely flawed,” Republican media consultant David LaTorre told Brad Bumsted, Harrisburg bureau chief of The Caucus, an LNP Media Group publication covering Pennsylvania politics and government. “Anybody with an ounce of political acumen could have seen what was coming in November.”
LaTorre asserted that “Trumpism died on Election Day.”
The former president — who instigated the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and failed to quickly intervene to stop the violence that erupted at the US Capitol — has indicated that he may announce another presidential run as soon as this week.
Hasn’t he done enough damage already? He refused to accept his defeat to President Joe Biden; he engineered the end of the long-revered American tradition of a peaceful transition of power; he has debased the party of Abraham Lincoln. On Thursday, he continued to undermine democracy by posting this on his social media platform Truth Social: “Pennsylvania is a very corrupt State with voting, but nobody ever wants to check that.” He added, appallingly, “How does Oz (smart guy!) lose to a guy who can’t string together two sentences?”
Even Ted Fabianski, a stalwart defender of Trump on the LNP | LancasterOnline Letters pages, urged the former president to retire from politics in a letter published Friday. “People are tired of all the noise,” he wrote.
We don’t know where the GOP will go in the wake of its relatively poor performance in the midterms. As Bumsted of The Caucus pointed out, Republicans in Pennsylvania missed a rare opportunity last week to win both an open US Senate seat and an open governor’s seat in the same election.
We hope Republicans cease pandering to the most radical fringe members of their party. We hope that, moving forward, they choose candidates with the backbone to stand up for democracy and to rebuff antidemocratic groups that sow distrust in elections.
Most Lancaster County voters are conservative in the way the term used to be defined: as favoring moderation and adherence to norms. They are reasonable and pragmatic. They view patriotism as a genuine love of country; they don’t wield it as a political weapon. They believe in the Constitution and expect elected officials to honor the oath they take to uphold it.
One positive sign: While Mastriano refused to accept, other candidates — Republicans as well as Democrats — who lost last week acknowledged their defeats. This shouldn’t be remarkable, but we learned in 2020 that election losers don’t always graciously accept the truth.
In a statement issued Wednesday morning, Oz said he congratulated Fetterman and wished the senator-elect and his family well. “We are facing big problems as a country and we need everyone to put down their partisan swords and focus on getting the job done,” Oz said.
Oz’s fine statement stood in stark contrast to Mastriano’s conduct. Mastriano reacted angrily to Shapiro’s respectful Veterans Day post on Twitter on Friday.
As Spotlight PA noted, Mastriano was otherwise “radio silent” for most of the week, “save a few cryptic posts to social media. One featured a photo of himself on horseback with the caption ‘Saddle up.’ Another included a photo of himself and his wife in front of a body of water and a sunset.”
We hope that’s a sunset into which he intends to ride — by vehicle or horse, it doesn’t matter to us.
Jason High, a senior associate at former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge’s government relations firm, told Spotlight PA that Mastriano’s resounding defeat demanded a concession.
“I think it’s important to concede, acknowledge the campaign’s over, and particularly signal to your supporters that you’re going to move on,” High said. “It’s important for the process. It’s important for democracy.”
Indeed, it is.
A concession may feel like a gut punch to the losing candidate, but it’s a win for the democratic process. Doing what’s best for democracy ought to be a fundamental priority of anyone who seeks public office.
It seems that in this gubernatorial election, voters expected this to be a priority, too. Thank goodness.