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Josh Shapiro and John Fetterman helped Democrats defy GOP hopes for a red wave

The results made Pennsylvania a key piece of a night that shaped up better for Democrats than many expected, given the nation’s persistent inflation and the president’s poor approval ratings.

An Election Day sign near City Hall on Sunday.
An Election Day sign near City Hall on Sunday.Read moreTom Gralish / Staff Photographer

Pennsylvania Democrats won major victories Tuesday in the state’s races for governor and U.S. Senate, securing wins with sweeping national consequences and helping their party defy predictions of a political wipeout.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro was projected as a runaway winner in the governor’s race over State Sen. Doug Mastriano, giving Democrats control of the governor’s mansion in the fifth most populous state, and preventing an election-denying Republican from taking control of the state’s election apparatus.

That race had long appeared likely to go to Democrats.

But the U.S. Senate contest, among the most important in the nation, was expected to be so close that it might have taken days to determine a winner. Instead, Democrat John Fetterman was projected as the winner shortly before 2 a.m., and he led Republican Mehmet Oz by more than 2 percentage points, a relatively solid victory in such a closely contested state.

His victory, flipping a seat now held by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey, who is retiring, was a major win for Democrats as they tried to hold on to the evenly divided Senate. While control of the chamber was still up for grabs as votes were counted in other key races, Fetterman’s success gave his party a cushion on a night when Democrats appeared poised to defy many predictions of a GOP wave.

The candidates and their allies had poured more than $300 million into the race, making it this year’s most expensive Senate campaign, reflecting its high stakes.

Republicans still appeared to be in strong position to win the U.S. House, but likely by smaller margins than had been projected, and several vulnerable House Democrats in Pennsylvania were also part of stemming any GOP tide. Democratic Reps. Susan Wild, from Allentown, and Matt Cartwright, of Northeast Pennsylvania held small leads with most of the votes counted. So did Democrat Chris Deluzio, who was vying to fill a battleground seat in the Pittsburgh suburbs. But all were still too close to call as of early Wednesday morning.

It all made Pennsylvania a key piece of a night that shaped up far better for Democrats than many expected, given the nation’s persistent inflation and President Joe Biden’s poor approval ratings.

It was also a bad political omen for former President Donald Trump, just as he appears poised to launch another campaign for president. His handpicked choice, Oz, lost a critical Senate race, and a gubernatorial candidate molded in his image got routed.

Recriminations were already beginning among Republicans for failing to take advantage of what looked like a very favorable political environment. In many races they were saddled with candidates who carried personal flaws or far-right views who then lost winnable contests.

Fetterman, despite a May stroke that severely limited his campaigning in the general election, won by improving on Democratic showings in many rural parts of the state, while still scoring major victories in the deep-blue cities and suburbs, something he vowed he could do after other Democrats had failed.

“Every county, every vote, and that’s exactly what happened” Fetterman told a jubilant crowd in Pittsburgh around 2 a.m. “We jammed them up. We held the line.”

Biden texted Fetterman congratulations, according to the White House.

Shapiro more easily defeated Mastriano in a race that carried with it the potential to shape Pennsylvania’s abortion rights and voting laws — and oversight over the state’s 2024 presidential election, when it will again be a pivotal battleground. The Associated Press declared him the winner shortly after midnight.

Shapiro’s running mate, Austin Davis, was poised to become the state’s first Black lieutenant governor.

Voters “basically all want the same thing: They want a real opportunity for good schools, safe communities, and an economy that just gives everybody a shot,” Shapiro said in a victory speech in Montgomery County.

He later added that “a woman’s right to choose won, the right to organize here in Pennsylvania, that won, your right to vote won,” and referring to “lies and conspiracies and baseless claims” that “truth won.”

His victory in a swing state could vault him into conversation as a potential future presidential candidate.

Fetterman had a tougher race, but with a lead of more than 2 percentage points appeared likely to win the state by a larger margin than Biden in 2020, or Trump in 2016.

“I’m proud of what we ran on: protecting a woman’s right to choose, raising our minimum wage, fighting [for] the union way of life, health care as a fundamental human right. It saved my life, and it should all be there for you if you ever should need it,” Fetterman told supporters.

Democrats saw some positive early signs in local House races as well. They held on to the South Jersey seat held by Rep. Andy Kim.

The combination of critical races all put Pennsylvania at the center of the country’s political turmoil — again.

» READ MORE: Follow our live midterm election results

Voters went to polls in the face of punishing inflation and worries about violent crime and migration at the southern border. The economy consistently ranked as the top concern in public polling, driving expectations of strong results for Republicans.

But it was also the first chance for most to go to the polls after the Supreme Court decision ending the constitutional right to abortion. And it was the public’s first opportunity to vote after Republican attempts to overthrow the 2020 presidential results, including by targeting Pennsylvania.

With many Republicans still promoting the same false election claims, and vying for more power in Harrisburg and Washington, Democrats warned democracy itself was at stake.

Fetterman carried much of Democrats’ hopes on the 6-foot-8-inch frame that has helped make him a political cult figure, but he faced a late surge from Oz and his campaigning was limited by a stroke that left him sidelined for months.

After Fetterman’s victory, Republican hopes of winning the Senate hinged on tight races in Georgia, Arizona, and Nevada.

Mastriano, the Republican nominee and a state senator, had become a national emblem of election denialism’s power within the GOP.

He struggled to attract donors and advertise on TV after spreading election lies, advocating for a total ban on abortion, and affiliating with allies who jabbed at Shapiro’s Jewish faith.

Shapiro, with the airwaves almost to himself, ran a relentless campaign, appealing to both his party’s staunch supporters and some Republicans.


But the Senate race was the premier contest.

Fetterman, Oz, and their allies poured more than $312 million into the contest, bombarding Pennsylvanians with advertising. The campaign was shaped by both the candidates’ outsized personalities, and a shock event: Fetterman’s stroke days before the May 17 primary.

His recovery kept him off the campaign trail for months, and limited his schedule and public appearances. It also weighed heavily on him during a halting debate performance.

For Fetterman, the race was the culmination of years of work to build his profile from mayor of Braddock, a small city of about 2,000 near Pittsburgh, into a figure of fascination who aimed to become an unusual addition to the staid Senate.

With his blunt style and unorthodox look — featuring forearm tattoos, hoodies, and Carhartt jackets — Fetterman had aimed to win back the kind of white, working-class voters who have fled the Democratic Party for the Trump-era GOP.

It appeared he had done so.

» READ MORE: Follow live election updates