Fetterman, Shapiro defy expectations for Democrats in 2022 midterm elections

Here’s how the Democratic candidates at the top of the ticket in Pa. on Election Day sealed the deal with voters

By: and - November 10, 2022 4:03 pm
(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

(Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro and U.S. Sen.-elect John Fetterman scored pivotal victories for Democrats this election cycle, defying expectations by attracting voters in areas that previously supported former President Donald Trump in a state that narrowly elected President Joe Biden in 2020.

In addition to winning both statewide elections, Democrats defended seven U.S. House seats against a predicted “red wave.” They picked up two open U.S. House seats and gained at least 10 seats in the state House, where Democrats were predicted to take control. Democrats added one seat in the state Senate, but the upper chamber will remain under GOP control.

During brief victory remarks early Wednesday morning, Fetterman credited his “every county, every vote” strategy, telling supporters that his campaign aimed to fight for “anyone that ever got knocked down that got back up.”

The race “is for the future of every community across Pennsylvania,” he added.

In his victory remarks late Tuesday night, Shapiro thanked the Republicans who crossed party lines to vote for him, saying he was humbled and would not take their support for granted. 

Like Fetterman, Shapiro framed the election as a fight for the soul of Pennsylvania.

“My name was on the ballot, but it was always your rights, your future on the line right here in the commonwealth,” Shapiro said, saying the 2022 campaign was a “test of each of us, to decide what kind of commonwealth, what kind of country we want to live in.”

Fetterman secured the Democratic nomination in the primary election with ease. But after being sidelined from the campaign trail for three months by a stroke he suffered in May, he faced speculation about his health. More uncertainty came after he struggled in the first and only U.S. Senate debate last month.

Still, his campaign brought in millions of dollars in contributions and engaged with supporters through an online and social media-based approach.

Shapiro was unopposed in the primary and carried a hefty balance in his campaign coffers into the general election campaign setting a record for spending in a gubernatorial race with $38 million spent by mid-September.

Like Fetterman, Shapiro’s campaign concentrated on reaching voters through the airwaves and virtual text-banking events that capitalized on volunteers. Shapiro capped the campaign with a statewide bus get-out-the-vote tour.

Democratic political strategist Mustafa Rashed, president and CEO of the Philadelphia-based firm Bellevue Strategies, said Pennsylvania Democrats beat the odds by connecting with the state’s electorate, specifically by going to areas “where Democrats had not put a lot of effort into.”

“Most traditional strategists would have told you not to do that. Focus on turnout in heavily Democratic areas. But he didn’t do that,” Rashed told the Capital-Star of Fetterman. “By all accounts, it worked. With Josh Shapiro, he said that he was going to compete in every county in the state, and he did that. He didn’t take anything for granted.”

Shapiro won in several counties that voted for Trump in 2020. Even in conservative counties where he lost to Republican nominee Sen. Doug Mastriano, such as Lancaster County, Shapiro lost those counties by far smaller margins than Biden lost to Trump, Democratic strategist Neil Oxman said.

“You had a lot of Republicans voting for Shapiro,” Oxman said.

Muhlenberg College pollster Christopher Borick said Mastriano was, as Shapiro’s campaign labeled him, too extreme for Pennsylvania.

“I don’t think it’s a reach to say it was sealed on primary election night when the match-up was set between Josh Shapiro and Doug Mastriano,” Borick said.

Shapiro’s campaign made an early move to cast him as a moderate candidate, while throwing Mastriano’s extreme positions into sharp relief by touting Shapiro’s endorsements by more than a dozen prominent Republicans, including former U.S. Reps. Charlie Dent and Jim Greenwood.

Mastriano, meanwhile, made no effort to reach out to the center, didn’t speak to the mainstream press, refused to debate — except under conditions he specified — and spoke only to people who already agreed with him.

“He allowed Shapiro to completely define him as the extremist that he is, and voters got it and rejected him,” Oxman said.

Rashed added that while engaging with voters, Shapiro and Fetterman covered issues that resonated with voters, including education, the economy, inflation, abortion access, health care, and energy.

While Republican U.S. Senate nominee Mehmet Oz went after Fetterman’s stance on crime, Democrats went after Oz for his residency and professional history as a celebrity heart surgeon who marketed questionable and potentially dangerous health treatments.

Mastriano presented an even broader target for Democratic fusillades that hammered on his presence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and his association with an alt-right social media site known for tolerating anti-Semitic speech. The man accused of killing 11 worshipers at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018 posted his manifesto on the website.

After the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, Democrats ramped up efforts to communicate how electing GOP candidates, such as Oz and Mastriano, could lead to stricter abortion laws — or a ban on the procedure altogether.

But in the months leading up to Election Day, Fetterman attacked Oz for his abortion views, including his response to a question about a federal abortion ban during the lone debate saying that decisions about reproductive health should be between women, their doctors, and local elected leaders.

Shapiro’s campaign resurfaced a sound bite of Mastriano calling the concept of “my body, my choice,” “ridiculous nonsense.” It also circulated Mastriano’s statement that women who defy a proposed ban on abortion should face murder charges.

And on Tuesday, voters responded as abortion was a top issue in this year’s election, trailing just behind inflation, according to exit polling from news outlets and research groups.

“Republicans decided that this year of all years was the time to take away abortion rights and put people in same-sex and interracial marriages on notice in the process,” Emerge America President A’shanti Gholar said in a post-election briefing on Wednesday. “And women took it personally — as they should. You come for someone’s rights, and there will be consequences. Republicans learned that first-hand.”

Emerge America recruits Democratic women and trains them to run for office.

Sixty-nine candidates who received an endorsement from the political arm of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, including Shapiro, were predicted to win their races based on unofficial results.

“We invested our resources in protecting our rights this cycle,” Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates Executive Director Signe Espinoza said in a statement. “This was not a year where we could accept semi-consistent votes on abortion access. Without federal protections in place for our rights, we needed champions in the Legislature and the governor’s mansion.”

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Marley Parish

Marley Parish covered the Senate for the Capital-Star.

Peter Hall
Peter Hall

Peter Hall has been a journalist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for more than 20 years, most recently covering criminal justice and legal affairs for The Morning Call in Allentown. His career at local newspapers and legal business publications has taken him from school board meetings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many points of interest between. He earned a degree in journalism from Susquehanna University.