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Top Stories of 2022: How Pa.’s marquee midterm races turned into fights over democracy, abortion and a stroke.

  • Sam Dunklau
Shown is the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.

 Matt Rourke / AP Photo

Shown is the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa., Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.

The race for governor and U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania drew national attention — with abortion rights and democracy front and center in both contests. The results of those races – as well as down-ballot contests in the state House – have shifted the political landscape in the commonwealth and the nation.

As part of our look back at the top stories of 2022, we took a close look at how those races shook out.

The race for governor: Josh Shapiro (D) vs. Doug Mastriano (R)

The two men’s campaigns were a study in contrasts. The race also became a proving ground, testing the kinds of candidates voters were willing to tolerate for statewide office. 

Shapiro followed a more traditional route, racking up record fundraising numbers and endorsements and talking about issues that had cross-partisan appeal, like education and business taxes. Mastriano, meanwhile, made little effort to court key swing voters – preferring to stay out of the traditional media limelight while catering to his base with stump speeches on things like COVID protocols and election fraud claims.

Matt Slocum and Mary Altaffer / AP Photo

Pennsylvania candidate for governor, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro (left) and Republican candidate Doug Mastriano.

Shapiro constantly reminded voters of what he called his opponent’s “extreme” views. Mastriano favored a total ban on abortion and was one of the nation’s biggest spreaders of 2020 election lies

“It sure as hell isn’t freedom when he says, ‘yeah you can all go vote in Pennsylvania, but I’ll choose the winner.’ That’s not freedom,” Shapiro said on MSNBC in July.

Mastriano made no effort to hide his intentions if elected.

“As governor, I get to decertify any or all machines in this state, and obviously I have my eyes on several of the counties that have machines that I believe are compromised and it’s going to be a top issue for me,” he said on Steve Bannon’s War Room program in March.

Mstriano also campaigned with people who supported Christian Nationalism, conspiracy theories and briefly advertised on Gab, a far-right social media platform. His views on abortion were crystalized when a 2019 interview on WITF’s Smart Talk made national headlines, when host Scott LaMar asked Mastriano whether women should be charged with murder if they were to violate the proposed ban, to which the senator responded “yes.” 

Mastriano explained he believes a fetus “deserves equal protection,” and called the premise of the question a “red herring.”

“Is that a human being? Is that a little boy or girl? If it is, it deserves equal protection under the law,” he said.

In the end, voters overwhelmingly chose to keep the executive branch in Democratic hands. Shapiro trounced Mastriano by more than 14 points. The governor-elect says voters were tired of partisanship.

“They [voters] want us to get things done in this building, to take off the red jersey and the blue jersey and come together around the principles that are going to matter most to the good people of Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said at a press conference in November.

Nationally, Democrats including Shapiro won 18 gubernatorial races, flipping two executive mansions from red to blue. Republicans claimed 17. 

Shapiro will get to work with the first Democratic-controlled House in more than a decade. But when lawmakers are sworn in next month, he’ll also have to navigate a Republican-led Senate, something Shapiro has said he’s willing to do.

Legislative races: U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and state House

This combination of file photos shows Democratic Senate candidate, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, left, and Republican Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz in 2022 photos.

AP Photo

This combination of file photos shows Democratic Senate candidate, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, left, and Republican Senate candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz in 2022 photos.

When Republican U.S. Senator Pat Toomey said he was retiring, political analysts viewed the seat as a toss-up. Republican Dr. Mehmet Oz and Democratic Lieutenant Gov. John Fetterman emerged from crowded fields of candidates in their respective primaries. 

Just days before winning the Democratic primary, Fetterman suffered a stroke – and was rushed to the hospital by his wife, Giselle. It would keep him off the campaign trail for months, which fueled Republican candidate Doctor Mehmet Oz’s criticism.

“If John Fetterman had ever eaten a vegetable in his life, then maybe he wouldn’t have had a major stroke,” an Oz campaign spokesperson told Business Insider in August.

The celebrity surgeon repeatedly called attention to Fetterman’s speech difficulties — which showed up in the candidates’ October debate. Though the debate was the only one between major candidates this year, voters WITF spoke with revealed they didn’t miss the campaign tradition all that much.

As election day neared, Fetterman wove the attacks into his speeches.

“After that stroke, I got knocked down but I got back up, and I’m gonna fight for everyone in Pennsylvania who ever got knocked down, who ever had to get back up,” he told a Pittsburgh crowd in October.

Fetterman’s social media team and outside groups also went after Oz — mostly over his ties to New Jersey. But Oz countered with criticism of Fetterman’s stances on things like crime, and illegal immigration.

“None of this has to happen. This is all very addressable. I’m a surgeon, I’m not a politician,” he said during October’s debate.

Voters were subjected to a flurry of campaign advertisements, supporting both the Fetterman and Oz camps. More than $312 million was spent on ads, among the highest for any race in the nation. In the end, Fetterman won the race by nearly five percentage points — helping his party maintain control of the Senate.  

Democrats won nine of Pennsylvania’s 17 U.S. House seats – and performed well at the state level, taking the House majority from the Republicans. Democratic House leader Joanna McClinton (Philadelphia) said pushing back against GOP messaging on the 2020 election was key.

“Voters want to be told the truth. They did not appreciate the Republican majority spilling out the Big Lie for the past two years about the election,” she said at a press conference this month. 

Republicans will still control the Senate. President Pro Tem Kim Ward (R-Westmoreland) is already setting the tone for the next session.

“We’re going to stop things that we think are bad for Pennsylvanians, but we can get things done that help our economy. We’ve already proven that in the budget process,” she said.

Democratic governor-elect Josh Shapiro says he’s willing to work with both parties to get legislation approved.

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