By Eric Boehm and Melissa Daniels | PA Independent
HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett may have woken up with a headache on Wednesday morning, but it wasn’t the result of too much celebrating the night before.
Yep, after Tuesday night it seems like a good time to be a Democrat in Pennsylvania.
The Democrats likely picked up some support from voters who chose President Barack Obama, who won the state’s 20 electoral votes by beating Mitt Romney by 5.2 percentage points statewide.
Pennsylvania’s top statewide offices and U.S. Senate race also went to Democrats, sweeping the top of the ticket. The party also picked up three seats in the state Senate, narrowing a margin that could prove powerful in the next session.
Dems celebrate sweep
The sweep encourages Pennsylvania Democrats that their candidates’ messages resonate with the voters.
Jim Burn, chairman of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, said Tuesday that the results showed the party is on “the right side of history” and “the right side of the issues.”
Certainly, only time will tell. But results clearly reaffirmed the state party’s strengths, as Burn said he did not recall an election where they’d done this well “across the board.”
He said the results send a strong message to Corbett that it’s time to start listening “to all Pennsylvanians” and work in a bipartisan fashion.
“It’s only two years from now that you’re going to have to answer to all Pennsylvanians for your inaction on a variety of issues, and your inability to lead the entire state,” Burn said.
Not only did Corbett’s slate of mostly hand-picked candidates get their collective clocks cleaned on Tuesday night, but the governor now faces a two year run-up to re-election with a pair of newly-elected Democratic watchdogs looking over his shoulder.
Republicans fear Kathleen Kane and Eugene DePasquale, who will take over in January as attorney general and auditor general, respectively, will serve as an extension of the Democratic Party’s campaign team and will target Corbett and other Republicans for political purposes.
Both said during the campaign that they will be independent in their new offices.
Even so, Corbett can’t be too enthused about what they have on the top of their to-do lists.
Kane says she wants to investigate how the attorney general’s office — which Corbett led from 2004 until he was sworn in as governor in 2011 — handled the Jerry Sandusky investigation at Penn State.
DePasquale wants to audit the Department of Environmental Protection’s oversight of gas drilling in the Marcellus shale, which environmentalists have spent the past two years decrying as ineffective and lax.
Tough times for GOP
The losses for Republicans on Tuesday were not catastrophic. After all, Democrats had incumbents running in three of the five statewide races and only the attorney general’s office was actually flipped from blue to red.
But it is Kane’s victory that has to sting Corbett the most, after he cleared the field in the GOP primary for David Freed and heavily invested in the Cumberland County District Attorney’s campaign.
During his brief remarks to the media on Tuesday night, after it was apparent all five Republicans running statewide had been defeated, Corbett pointed out that Democrats outnumber Republicans by more than 1 million registrations in Pennsylvania.
“The goal is clear, we have to change the registration,” he said.
Turning around some of those registration numbers would help, but the problems for Corbett may run deeper.
Results from Tuesday seem to show that at least some Republicans crossed the ticket to support Kane in the attorney general’s race, after her campaign ran as much against Corbett as it did against the GOP attorney general candidate, Freed.
Corbett’s approval numbers also are low, hovering around 40 percent in the most recent polls.
Worse, unemployment in the state has spiked in recent months — it was 8.2 percent in September, the first time in six years that it was higher than the national rate.
And in the aftermath of the losses on Tuesday, there are questions to be answered about Republicans’ ability to win statewide. Corbett did so in 2010 with the help of a national GOP wave, fame won from his successful prosecution of corrupt lawmakers in Harrisburg and an outgoing Democratic governor who had worn out his welcome after eight years of late budgets and high spending.
It’s unlikely the 2014 election cycle will include those same factors.
If there is a silver lining for Corbett, it is that statewide victories for Republicans are easier in non-presidential years. There also is the fact that grassroots organizing during the 2010 and 2012 cycles could pay dividends in two years.
Bob Asher, Pennsylvania’s committeeman on the Republican National Committee and a major fundraiser in the state, said he believed Pennsylvania was still “a truly red state,” despite the lumps taken by the GOP on Tuesday.
“The Grand Old Party will dust itself off and come out fighting” in two years to re-elect Corbett, he predicted Tuesday night.
This story was updated to clarify Corbett’s poll numbers.