By: Brent Sailhamer, Director of Government Affairs, ABC Keystone
Since 2006, Pennsylvania has enjoyed bipartisan representation in the United States Senate. After years of Republican control with the late Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum, the watershed election of 2006 opened the door for Democrats in many states, including Pennsylvania. Voters were offered a name they knew for decades and ousted incumbent Sen. Rick Santorum for Bob Casey Jr., a Democrat with little public policy experience and a track record of avoiding controversy. The appeal was the family name – Bob Casey Sr. was a pro-life, pro-gun Democrat who had led Pennsylvania as Governor for two terms. Beloved by voters on both sides of the aisle, his legacy paved the way for Casey Jr. to win a U.S Senate seat.
In 2012, Republicans were focused on revenge as they opened the door for challenger Tom Smith, a conservative, independently wealthy business owner who had strong ties to western Pennsylvania. Despite calls of a close election, Casey destroyed Republican hopes of gaining the seat back by beating Smith by a 54%-44% margin.
As the opportunity to unseat Casey in 2018 looked more and more dim, the 2016 election may have drastically changed the dynamic. President Trump made not only made history by becoming the first Republican Presidential candidate to win Pennsylvania since 1988, but his methods offered a glimpse at a potential winning strategy for contenders in 2018.
ABC PA recently endorsed U.S. Congressman Lou Barletta for Senate in 2018, supporting what many believe to be the strongest candidate to beat Bob Casey. ,Barletta was an early supporter of Trump in 2016, and comes from a business background. Like Trump, he appeals to blue collar voters and will have strong support from conservatives in central Pennsylvania. Barletta is a native of northeastern Pennsylvania, an area that has a long track record of supporting Presidential winners. That connection will be critical in areas like Luzerne and Carbon County, where voter turnout in 2016 elevated by more than 25% over average.
While many pundits have already predicted dismal results for Republicans in 2018, they were also quick to dismiss Trump in 2016. That unprecedented victory, particularly in the battleground of Pennsylvania, may have provided a roadmap to success for 2018.