Letter from a demoralized Pennsylvania voter
PA candidates. Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock
You may have heard that Pennsylvanians are voting Tuesday on which candidates will go head-to-head in November to fill their state's vacant Senate seat and become its next governor. What you may not know is that these races were a circus - and that the cast of characters on both sides gives us an illuminating glimpse into everything that's wrong with American politics in 2022.
On the Republican side, the frontrunners in both races represent the breadth of a party still in the midst of a transformation that began around 2008 and exploded in intensity with former President Donald Trump's successful populist takeover of the GOP in 2016.
In the Senate race, a staid TV star with dual citizenship in Turkey (Mehmet Oz - or Dr. Oz, as he's popularly known) has a slim 2.6-point lead. Hot on his heels is Kathy Barnette, a right-wing black woman from a murky background who claims she was conceived in a rape (giving considerable weight to her staunchly anti-abortion stance), embraces a slew of right-wing conspiracy theories, and marched apparently on January 6, 2021 alongside members of the neo-fascist Proud Boys to Capitol Hill.
Then, nearly four points behind Barnette, there's David McCormick, a wealthy hedge fund CEO who served in the administration of former President George W. Bush but has worked hard (with little success) to portray himself as a modern-day Trumpian Republican. Oh, and McCormick has also been dogged by allegations of rug bagging since he moved to Pennsylvania and sold his six-bedroom, six-bathroom home in Connecticut last year.
In the race for governor, it's the far-right conspirator (retired US Army Colonel and PA State Senator Doug Mastriano) who has a solid lead (up 13.5 points at 32 percent). Behind him, clustered within 7.5 points of each other, three candidates compete for the "ordinary Republican" spot: Central Pennsylvania Rep. Lou Barletta; former US Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania Bill McSwain; and David White, a wealthy businessman from the Philadelphia suburbs.
Interestingly, while the popularity of Mastriano and Barnette suggests just how much Trump has changed the GOP, Trump himself only endorsed one of them — just last Saturday, just three days before polling stations, Mastriano pledged openly and fairly long after early voting began. In the Senate race, Trump endorsed Oz over a month ago, leaving McCormick out in the cold along with the far more distraught Barnette.
Apparently, the only thing that can beat insanity and personal loyalty in the competition for Trump's affections is a proven ability to attract sizable television audiences.
If the current polls pass, Trump will be able to give himself the magic touch — even though Mastriano was already on his way to victory without the confirmation, and even though he's likely to lose the campaign to Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania's popular attorney general, who was unopposed in the Democratic ran for gubernatorial primary.
A very different drama is unfolding on the Democratic side of the Senate race. There the Lt. gov. Pennsylvania Rep. John Fetterman is leading Conor Lamb by 31 points. For most of the race, the press has treated the contest as a contest between the progressive (Fetterman) and moderate (Lamb) wings of the party, describing Fetterman's strong polling as evidence that the Democratic electorate is motivated to vote for a man who endorsed Bernie Sanders in 2016 and proudly champions issues associated with the left wing of the Kulturkampf.
The story goes on
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