A Glimpse Into the Upcoming Election
June 17, 2020
Any election—in addition to being a matter of life and death for those involved—is a snapshot, a glimpse at where citizens stand and where things may be headed.
A glance at the primary results in Pennsylvania provide just that kind of hint, even a fairly low-key primary election.
The only statewide contest turned purely on geography, so we must look elsewhere for such clues.
One high-profile upset was the defeat of Senator Daylin Leach in the Philadelphia suburbs, a quirky personality with impeccably liberal views in his Main Line district; inexplicably seeking re-election after being dogged for years by allegations of sexual harassment, he was unceremoniously shown the door.
Far more surprising was the was the defeat in a nearby district of Senator Larry Farnese, a conventional liberal with deep roots in the district, who fell to an insurgent with ties to an organization launched after 2016 by local supporters of Bernie Sanders. A self-described democratic socialist, Nikil Saval will become the first Asian to serve in the Pennsylvania Senate, from a district represented at least since the nineteen-thirties by Italian-Americans.
Three state House incumbents also fell to more progressive challengers, one on Pittsburgh’s North Side and two in Philadelphia; the final legislator defeated in Philadelphia appears to have fallen to an intramural contest more about ward politics than an ideological divide.
The lesson, nonetheless, is pretty clear: in both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, the emerging face of the Democratic Party is that of urban progressives more interested in sweeping reforms than in the mundane business of line items in the state budget and the precise wording of statutes.
A mirror image of this can be seen in the sprawling northwestern Pennsylvania district of retiring Senate President pro tempore Joe Scarnati, where an outlay of nearly a million dollars proved insufficient to block Representative Cris Dush—hitherto regarded even by his admirers as largely ineffective conservative gadfly—from an effortless win.
In those races, and a few others that attracted attention, voters in both parties seemed to favor candidates with a bit more of an ideological edge than those they replaced. It is tough to tell how significant that may be—there is more to the Democrats in Pennsylvania than two large cities, and more to the state GOP than remote rural areas—and just as hard to guess what the impact on the not-always-highminded workings of the General Assembly might be.