In less than a week, Americans across the country will cast their ballots in November’s midterm elections. Across the nation, many eyes are turned to Pennsylvania, a key state that may determine which party will wield political power for the foreseeable future.
With contentious races for governor and Senate in Pennsylvania, The Daily Pennsylvanian spoke with Penn community members about how the upcoming Nov. 8 elections’ results will have direct consequences on Americans’ everyday lives, including Penn students – particularly regarding abortion access and the future of each political party.
College senior and Penn Government and Politics Association President Joshua Rose said that while politicians and the news tend to portray every election as the most crucial one yet, this year’s midterms are particularly important because the country is in a state of flux, with both Democrats and Republicans learning how to navigate politics in the wake of Donald Trump's presidency.
“The effect of all this transition happening in the last few elections is falling on this midterm,” Rose said. “We are at a crossroads here. What type of politicians are going to be elected? Who is going to turn out to vote?”
This November, Democrats could lose control of the House of Representatives and the Senate to Republicans – who are looking to consolidate their power under the second half of President Joe Biden’s term. Nearly three-quarters of states have their gubernatorial seats up for election. And, on a more local scale, 88 of the United States' 99 state legislatures will hold their elections this year.
Due to Pennsylvania’s demographic breakdown, political science professor Matt Levendusky said that the state “has been and will continue to be a swing state,” leading to high profile elections with national importance this year.
The U.S. Senate currently sits at a 50-50 split, with Vice President Kamala Harris acting as the tiebreaker vote, so the results from any state could shift the balance of power for the next two years.
After Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election following his current term in the Senate, a wide range of candidates positioned themselves to fill the vacancy. Pennsylvania's competitive primary election has left Republican Mehmet Oz to face Democrat Lt. Gov. John Fetterman on the general election ballot.
Rose said that candidates on both sides of the aisle have made congressional control a main component of their campaign.
Pennsylvania's Senate seat has the highest chance to be flipped to the Democrats, according to College and Wharton sophomore Joshua Frazier – a political director for Penn College Republicans. When the balance of power in the Senate is so close, he said, every election matters even more, and – for Republicans – this election represents an opportunity to change the current status quo.
“We've currently seen the failure of the past two years,” Frazier said. “Democrats have controlled the House, the Senate, and the White House, and this is the muck and mire that we are currently in economically. We need to change it by electing Republicans.”
College senior and Penn Democrats president Emilia Onuonga agreed that these midterms are “one of our country’s most important elections,” but highlighted the need for candidates who are in support of protecting reproductive rights on the federal level.
Onounga said that Fetterman is the “best candidate in the race right now” because he has reliably been in favor of protecting abortion access for years.
While Onounga said she believes that stances on abortion will be a primary reason that college-aged voters will go to the polls this November, she said that there are many other issues that the Senate will address over the next two years that also require close attention, like student loan debt relief.
Levendusky said that Biden’s recently announced student loan debt relief plan, a program that provides eligible borrowers with full or partial discharge of loans based on their individual or family income, may be in jeopardy if Republicans take control of the Senate – explaining that executive actions “do not supersede legislation.”
“When the opposing party controls Congress, that makes [Biden’s] life that much harder because they can then take steps to block any of those actions,” Levendusky said.
Frazier said that he believes Fetterman is too liberal on important policy positions, including government spending and supervised injection sites. He said that in swing states, like Pennsylvania, the average voter tends to pick the candidate that is less extreme. For the Senate race, he said that this would point towards Oz.
“Oz tends to be the less far-leaning candidate,” Frazier said. “Normal, working-class Americans who are tired of political divides and not having healthy discourse want to see someone who will represent their voice and politics.”
With Gov. Tom Wolf’s (D-Pa.) term ending this year, Pennsylvanians will either elect Democrat Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro or Republican state Sen. Doug Mastriano as the state’s 48th governor this November.
While some governors push themselves into the national spotlight for specific issue areas of concern, Rose said that they tend to act more locally with policies catered to the specific state.
Onounga said that Mastriano’s view on abortion, offering no exception for incest, rape, or protecting the life of the mother, are “extremely harsh.”
“It is going to be the governors who are deciding restrictions and potentially enacting bans on individual's right to choose to have an abortion,” Onounga said. “So it is even more important that we have people going out and voting to protect this right.”
While Frazier said that Mastriano’s policy positions tend to be more extreme than Shapiro’s views, he said that it is important to recognize that college students’ views are not representative of the views of the average American.
“Students' views on abortion at Penn are over overwhelmingly one-sided relative to the rest of the nation,” Frazier said. “Republicans at the national level do not want to completely ban it at all. We just want to have a conversation about the normal regulations.”
Besides reproductive health freedoms, Levendusky explained that Shapiro and Mastriano also differ on their views for general spending and voting access.
For example, he said that Pennsylvania's Act 77 – which allowed mail-in ballots – originally passed with bipartisan support and little controversy. Now, however, if Republicans in the legislature tried to remove it, Shapiro would veto this legislation while Mastriano would actively try to support it.
Outside of specific policy beliefs, Onounga said that it is “crazy in and of itself” that this is a decision between Shapiro and an “insurrectionist,” referring to Mastriano.
As the first general election since the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol last year, many Republicans have pushed election integrity as a key issue during their campaigns.
Levendusky said that years of academic research have pointed to the conclusion that there is no evidence of meaningful voter fraud in the U.S.
Frazier agreed that large-scale fraud is unlikely in the U.S. and Americans can have faith in the results, but he added that it is unfair to shut down all claims of collusion or corruption without looking into the issue.
Outside of voter fraud, this year’s midterms also have made people question the future directions of the Democratic and Republican parties.
For the Democratic party, both Frazier and Onounga agreed that many Americans do not feel excited about Biden as their leader.
“Democrats, a lot of the time, have been playing it safe, which would be sticking with a more moderate position,” Onounga said. “It would be exciting if we had someone who is more hopeful and has more progressive ideologies.”
After many Trump-endorsed candidates won their primary elections earlier this year, Onounga said that it is “unfortunate” that this seems to be the direction of the Republican party.
Frazier said he was less confident that the future of the GOP will lean towards Trump’s ideals. He said that the results from this year’s election will set the tone for the future of each party.
“As a nation, we are at a turning point where we don't really have a clear vision or a clear leader in either party,” Frazier said. “There just needs to be more young blood in each party.”
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