A version of this article first appeared in The Inquirer’s Election Newsletter. Sign up to receive PA 2022 straight to your inbox.
Tomorrow we will have answers.
After all the politicking, strategizing and speculation, we will finally find out late Tuesday which candidates, campaigns and messages succeeded – and which failed.
But it won’t just be about winners and losers. The results will tell us a lot about the direction the Democratic and Republican parties are heading after the upheaval of the Trump presidency.
That’s especially true in Pennsylvania, where neither the Senate nor the gubernatorial races have incumbents, leaving voters of both parties to choose fresh faces.
So what can we learn from the results?
We know that former President Donald Trump still has significant influence in the GOP — nearly every major party candidate for governor and Senate has tried to camouflage himself in his red hat image.
But how far can he personally influence voters?
Trump endorsed famed surgeon Mehmet Oz in the competitive Senate primary and rallied behind him earlier this month in Greensboro, throwing his weight behind feeding the man known as “Dr. Oz” at the finish line.
Trump injected himself into the race again as Kathy Barnette entered the fray with Oz and David McCormick. Trump warned voters against Barnette, wary of whether she could win a general election. But Trump also said he saw great things in Barnette’s future in a bizarre hybrid criticism/compliment that Barnette later described as “favorable.”
READ MORE: Oz, Barnette and McCormick cruise through Pennsylvania ahead of extremely close primary
The race is still so close and Oz has already soaked up a lot of damage from McCormick on the air.
The result may show whether Trump can undo those attacks and energize GOP voters.
The former president, seeing a candidate in jeopardy, jumped on what looks like a more likely winner early Saturday, endorsing GOP Gov. Doug Mastriano’s favorite, a far-right Franklin County senator who has been a figurehead figurehead trying to deny the legal outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Trump seems likely to win that bet, but if he does, it won’t be because of his endorsement.
Mastriano had been leading for months.
But Trump not only chose who he wanted to win, he also actively chose who he most wanted to lose. (Trump has always been politically the most effective at tearing people down.)
Trump put a MAGA smackdown last week on McCormick. And a week before endorsing Mastriano, he handed out an anti-endorsement to another GOP gubernatorial candidate, Bill McSwain, calling the former US attorney a “coward”.
The rejections hit even harder because both men openly sought favors from Trump.
But McCormick and McSwain have led the spending in their respective races, and if they survive Trump’s wrath to win, it could suggest the former president’s grip is weakening. Or maybe that money really is that powerful.
In the biggest races of recent years, Democrats have generally opted for the conventional choice of the establishment — think Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Katie McGinty in the 2016 Pennsylvania Senate race.
There’s a chance this year’s Senate primary will change that. Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, whose public image is synonymous with Rust Belt and hoodies, has few friends in the party establishment. But he is widely expected to win the nomination — despite opposition from another Democrat who matches Pennsylvania’s usual center-left approach in Congressman Conor Lamb.
READ MORE: John Fetterman doesn’t just have supporters, he has fans. His celebrity could make him a senator.
If Fetterman wins and takes on Oz or McCormick, the Democrats might have a chance this time to play the populist angle against an ultra-wealthy guy who has long been part of the coastal elite. (Fetterman’s own Harvard pedigree is usually lost in tattoos and a goatee.)
But if Lamb pulls off a shock, it would signal the strength of the mainstream’s gravitational field.
We also research how well State Representative Malcolm Kenyatta is doing. After running a solid campaign with few resources, even a solid third place finish could spell good things for his political future.
READ MORE: John Fetterman suffered stroke days before Pennsylvania Senate primary, but says he is recovering well
Oz, McCormick, and McSwain have dominated television with the help of their own fortunes or super-rich friends (must be nice!).
But none could come off.
Instead, McSwain in most polls trailed state senator Doug Mastriano and former U.S. Representative Lou Barletta, who both have far less campaign money but have each tapped into the MAGA-shaped attitude by Trump.
READ MORE: Get to know the 2022 nominees for Pa. Senate and Governor
It’s a similar story in the Senate race, where Barnette made up for a money crunch with a relentless schedule and a similar ability to tap into the populist (and sometimes conspiracy-driven) vein that runs through the GOP.
As she rose in the polls, prime time media appearances followed and she became the story of the final days of the Pennsylvania primary, finally competing with Oz and McCormick on the air – for free.
If Mastriano or Barnette win, it would be proof that money can’t buy everything.
It is conventional wisdom – and polls support the idea – that voters are tired of politics in general, and that Democrats in particular are unmotivated this year. Does it play out at the ballot box? Or does the recent Supreme Court leak show that the justices are about to overturn the landmark? Roe vs. Wade decision on abortion inspires progressive participation?
And despite everything we’ve written about the candidates over the past few months, many voters are just tuning in now. Who gets a bump just by virtue of where they live? And in races as crowded as the GOP primary for governor, how many votes does it take to win?