Other than President Trump falling in the state once all the ballots were counted, Republicans in Pennsylvania had one of their best elections of the past decade. The party lost none of the House seats they hold, they gained seats in the State House, and they still might gain one in the State Senate barring recounts in the 45th district.
Most impressively, they flipped two of the three row offices. The Auditor General and Treasurer roles are both in GOP hands for the first time since 1960. How it happened, though, was different for each race. One that in hindsight seems fairly obvious and one that should be considered the biggest shock of the year.
The Auditor’s Race
The Auditor General race in Pennsylvania was the only statewide race to not feature an incumbent this year. Eugene DePasquale, the soon-to-be-former Auditor General, was termed out this year. Republicans had an easy primary. The state party gave Dauphin County Controller Timothy DeFoor their endorsement at the state convention. This led former Lancaster County Commissioner Dennis Stuckey to drop out. State Representative Chris Dush also ended up dropping out to run for the State Senate after Joe Scarnati decided to retire. This left DeFoor fully unopposed for the nomination.
The Democratic primary for this race was a little more fun. I won’t go into too much detail since I wrote about it in a previous article here. Nina Ahmad, a Philly-based progressive and former assistant to the Mayor, won out. She beat five other candidates, including the favored candidate of the state party Michael Lamb.
DeFoor ended up winning by about three points, and the weaknesses I pointed out about Ahmad in my post-primary analysis showed up. Ahmad ran a purely progressive campaign, running heavily on national issues as the Auditor candidate. Her platform included items about the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. The problem is those aren’t necessarily issues the Auditor General has control over.
DeFoor, on the other hand, ran a relatively moderate campaign. He didn’t tie himself to Donald Trump and focused on government spending and serving as a watchdog against corruption. Those are items the Auditor’s office does have control over. Add in DeFoor’s geographical advantage over Ahmad, coming from the Harrisburg area instead of Philadelphia, and you see his win develop. Winning in counties like Bucks, Northampton, Erie, Centre, and even Dauphin gave DeFoor the edge.
The Treasurer’s Race
What happened in the Treasurer’s race was something that no one expected. I personally had this race rated as Safe D when I ranked all three row office races in Pennsylvania. That was higher than I ranked the Attorney General’s race, which I had as Likely D. The general consensus was the Republicans had nominated their weakest candidate statewide here in Stacy Garrity. Incumbent Treasurer Joe Torsella had also brought a solid record of not being corrupt to his re-election bid. You may laugh at that last comment, but considering PA’s last two Treasurers, that was a huge positive.
Add in that Torsella had a huge money advantage and that Garrity brought no geographical advantage and this race seemed like a lock for Democrats. Torsella was riding so high, that there were rumors he himself could run for Governor in 2022 if he beat Josh Shapiro’s margins this year.
That clearly didn’t happen. While this race was the closest statewide in Pennsylvania this year, Garrity was able to pull it out. While she didn’t win Bucks, Centre, Dauphin, or Erie, Garrity did win Northampton County. In most of those other four counties, she kept it close. Torsella also failed to get over 60% in any of the other suburban counties. That slight underperformance there cost him tens of thousands of votes. Compared to his 2016 victory, Torsella, like most other Democrats, collapsed in western Pennsylvania. All these factors led to Stacy Garrity winning by less than a percent over Torsella.
The Election 2020’s Biggest Shock
In every election, it’s fair to say we have our surprises. Most of them happen on the federal level, though. In 2018 it was Kendra Horn beating Steve Russel in OK-05. In 2016 it was Donald Trump winning the Presidency. 2012 saw Heidi Heitkamp win the open Senate race in North Dakota. 2010 was Joe Walsh over Melissa Bean. I can go on and on. But this year’s biggest upset should be the PA Treasurer race.
Joe Torsella should not have lost this race. He had no scandals, was generally popular, and had a huge money advantage. Stacy Garrity hugged Donald Trump and lacked DeFoor’s geographical advantage. But none of that mattered. Stacy Garrity pulled off one of the biggest shockers in modern Pennsylvania politics. Republicans in the state haven’t beaten an incumbent statewide Democrat since Rick Santorum beat Harris Wofford in 1994. Now that streak is broken, in one of the most stunning ways I’ve seen yet.