Postmortem: A peek behind the numbers of Tuesday's Pennsylvania Primaries | Blogh

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Postmortem: A peek behind the numbers of Tuesday's Pennsylvania Primaries

Posted By on Wed, Apr 27, 2016 at 11:49 AM

If there's one thing I am not, it's a numbers guy. But you don't have to be Nate Silver to look at the data and see why things ended like they did on election night. So let's take a quick look at the Race for the U.S. Senate and for Pennsylvania Attorney General. Full statewide results and a county-by-county breakdown can be found here.

Postmortem: A peek behind the numbers of Tuesday's Pennsylvania Primaries
Photo by Ryan Deto
John Fetterman
Six years ago, former congressman and retired Navy Admiral Joe Sestak came within a heartbeat of beating Pat Toomey. He was champing at the bit for another shot, and if you looked at the poll numbers just two weeks ago, it looked like he was clearly going to get it. He led McGinty by 10 points or more. That scenario should seem familiar to Sestak — except from the other side of things. In 2010, incumbent Arlen Specter was leading Sestak by 20 points or more before Sestak rallied with a brilliant ad campaign and brought Specter down.

But this was different. Sestak, an uber-liberal, was playing well with the party's liberal base despite his run-ins with the Democratic Party. The party asked everyone and his brother to run for the seat before McGinty agreed. And she didn't just get the party's support in spirit. It dumped millions of dollars into advertising in the campaign's final week, and money carried the day. CNN's Manu Raju wrote an excellent piece this morning on how the party overlords managed to get their way in Pennsylvania. So money made a difference, but based on the numbers, I don't think it was the only factor.

McGinty and Sestak are both from the Philadelphia area and they dueled out east for those votes. That made Western Pennsylvania the real battleground: Enter the Fetterman Factor. Braddock Mayor John Fetterman may have finished a distant third, but the final results tell only part of the story. McGinty certainly had a lot of support out this way by virtue of being the party's choice. But Sestak has never been without his supporters. The difference this year is that Sestak and Fetterman are very similar candidates. They are very liberal candidates and care deeply about a lot of the same issues. Both favored a ban on fracking, for example.

But while Fetterman may not be known statewide, he's a bit of a political celebrity in Southwest Pa. Fetterman overwhelmingly won Allegheny county with 45 percent of the vote. Sestak came in third with 19 percent. Elsewhere across the region, Fetterman soundly beat Sestak, coming in second in places like Beaver, Butler, Westmoreland, Armstrong and Fayette counties. In fact, Sestak's numbers were sadly pedestrian in these areas. And while you never know how someone might have voted if their favored candidate wasn't in the race, I think it's fair to say that Sestak would have benefited greatly from a Fetterman-less primary. Fetterman's problem a steep drop-off as you moved farther east. By the time he hit Bedford County, his numbers were in the basement, and got steadily worse from there. Still, this race did give him more statewide notoriety, even as it showed how popular he is regionally. 

Patty Kusick, a 73-year-old Mount Washington voter, says she supported Fetterman and won't be surprised if she gets the chance to do it again.

“He is so intelligent and his view is so far-reaching that it is maybe out of the grasp of regular voters," Kusick says. "I think he is challenging the dynamics [of the party], and hopefully his tenets will become the tenets of the Democrats in years to come.”

"We came up short, but we created a movement," Fetterman told reporters. Well, we do vote for county executive again in four years!

Pennsylvania Attorney General
Postmortem: A peek behind the numbers of Tuesday's Pennsylvania Primaries
Photo by Aaron Warnick
Stephen Zappala

This was another case of simple geography (well, and campaign chicanery if you believe the rumors, but more on that in a second).

Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro defeated Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala and Northampton District Attorney John Morganelli. Both Morganelli and Zappala ran on the idea that the state needs a prosecutor, not a politician. Shapiro is an attorney was never a prosecutor. In the end, Shapiro came out on top, with 47 percent to Zappala's 36 percent. Morganelli got 16 percent.

Based on Zappala's numbers in Western Pennsylvania, it looked like this thing was going to be a bloodbath. He won Allegheny County with 73 percent of the vote. In fact he took more than 70 percent of the vote in counties across the region, including Beaver, Westmoreland, Washington and Butler. But the numbers started to drop as you left the region. Shapiro won several northwestern counties, and as the race swept east, both he and Morganelli picked up steam. In several central and eastern counties,  Zappala not only lost to Shapiro, he lost to Morganelli as well.

Throughout this race, there was a lot of speculation that Morganelli might have just been running to siphon the "prosecutor-not-a-politican vote" from Zappala. Of course, no one will ever know for sure but whether intentional or accidental, it worked like a charm.

Ryan Deto, Ashley Murray and Rebecca Nuttall contributed to this report.

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