In 2018, Democrats were either able to flip or keep ahold of governorships in states that Donald Trump won in 2016. This includes states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Unlike the other two, which elected new Democrats, Pennsylvania re-elected a Democrat, current governor Tom Wolf.
Wolf has never had any help when it comes to the legislative branches in Pennsylvania. Since he was inaugurated in 2014, Wolf has dealt with numerous issues because of the heavy Republican lean of the chambers, even dealing with a GOP supermajority in the Pennsylvania State Senate for some time. In 2018, however, that all changed as the blue wave that ran through the nation ran through the state legislature.
A once in a generation opportunity
Going into 2020, Democrats have a slim chance, but their best chance yet, at gaining legislative control of a chamber they last controlled in 1993. That was a small blip in itself, as Democrats have not controlled the Pennsylvania State Senate for more than a year since 1980. Yes, you read that correctly.
40 years later, Democrats have a shot. Flipping a suburban seat in Allegheny in 2019 was the first step, and there is a seat that tilts to the Democrats in the 9th Senate district. Then, there’s a toss-up seat based in city of Erie that Democrats hope to have a swing at. This all became harder with Democratic Senator John Yudichak becoming a GOP-caucusing independent earlier this year. To get the majority in the Pennsylvania State Senate, Democrats must now look towards Central Pennsylvania.
Any chance of taking the State Senate will come down to two Central Pennsylvania based seats. One is the 15th district, based in Dauphin County, which flipped to the GOP in 2016. This seat is currently considered a toss-up. Incumbent John DiSanto is expected to face off against the 2018 PA-10 Democratic congressional nominee, Lutheran pastor George Scott.
Scott came within 8,000 votes of knocking off Scott Perry in the 2018 midterms. This seat has been very swingy in previous years; Democrat Rob Teplitz won in 2012 by about 3%, then current incumbent DiSanto won it by about the same margin. Here, Democrats hope that Scott can flip it back again with strong numbers in Dauphin County. This would theoretically overpower the heavily conservative Perry County part of the district.
And One Long Shot
The long shot senate seat comes in the form of the 13th district, based in most of Lancaster County. This seat is rated Likely Republican by sites that rate state legislative races (big thanks to Chaz Nuttycombe and CNanalysis for being a fantastic resource while writing this), but even that shows signs that Lancaster’s red hue is slightly lighter than previous decades. This district holds the entire city of Lancaster within its boundaries, a place that has become a safe haven for Democrats. What has helped evolve things are groups like Lancaster Stand Up, who has helped grow Democratic turnout across the county.
Lancaster County Democrats have a legitimate opponent against a GOP incumbent for the first time in ages. Craig Lehman, the only Democrat on the Lancaster County Commissioners, is the presumed favorite for the Democratic nomination. Lehman is the perfect candidate for the area as is. He’s unassuming, a moderate on economic policy, and is from the area. While these are all very vital things for a democrat to have in a seat like this one, Lehman still has a rather large hill to climb.
Lancaster’s red shine, will end any hope for Democrats of taking the Senate in Pennsylvania
The incumbent in this race, Scott Martin will keep a hold of this seat. Barring any screw-ups, Martin has done everything right to make sure that this seat stays solid red come November. Martin, who is also from the area, has been active during the coronavirus pandemic and has been at the forefront of community issues during his time as senator. All this is key and crucial to turning out the heavily GOP sections of the district in its southern area.
With the maps as is right now, it looks like Democrats will be able to sink into the GOP’s Pennsylvania State Senate majority again, but will go for years 26 and 27 without holding any kind of majority. This will hold major implications with redistricting, the budget, and the final two years of Governor Wolf’s tenure. While there is a sliver of hope for the Democrats, it is only a sliver. I fully expect the GOP to hold the chamber after November 3rd 2020 and for the GOP to keep hold of the Pennsylvania state legislature itself.