Pennsylvania Voters Rejected the Political Establishment in Tuesday's Primaries

But the pitched battle for the GOP Senate nomination in the Keystone State is still too close to call.


The two clear winners of Tuesday's contested primaries in Pennsylvania have something in common. They're outsiders from the traditional political power structures, embraced by voters who are fed up with those structures and with the increasingly useless—perhaps even impotent—party establishments.

But not every race has a clear winner, including the most highly anticipated race in the state. As Tuesday drew to a close, television personality Mehmet Oz and former hedge fund CEO David McCormick were running neck-and-neck with about 31 percent of the vote apiece in the seven-way contest for the Republican senatorial nomination.

Because of a screw-up involving mail-in ballots in Lancaster County that will require thousands of those votes to be counted by hand, final results are unlikely to be known for at least a few days. The race could be headed for a recount, which is automatically triggered if the gap between the top two candidates is less than 0.5 percent.

Oz and McCormick reportedly spent a combined $20 million on ads in the race, many of them attacking each other. Neither has held elected office before, and both dodged allegations of being carpetbaggers: Oz is from New Jersey but says he lives at his in-laws' home in the Philadelphia suburbs, while McCormick is a resident of Connecticut.

Whichever candidate eventually emerges from that Republican slugfest will head into a general election matchup against Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the tattooed progressive from coal country who easily prevailed over Rep. Conor Lamb, the well-coiffed establishment candidate who once looked like an obvious frontrunner. Fetterman wants to legalize weed and reduce prison sentences. Less appealingly, he has advocated abolishing the filibuster in order to ram more progressive policies through the Senate.

Fetterman's win was not without controversy. He suffered a stroke on Friday, but his campaign kept the news under wraps until Sunday, which raises questions about both Fetterman's health and his willingness to be transparent with voters. Fetterman had a pacemaker installed earlier on Election Day, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. He's expected to remain in the hospital for the next few days.

Hanging in the balance of all may be nothing less than control of the U.S. Senate. Pennsylvania is a crucial swing state with an open Senate seat at a time when the U.S. Senate is split 50–50 between the two parties. Both sides will be charting their paths to 51 Senate seats through the Keystone State, and that means Fetterman and either Oz or McCormick are about to become two of the most well-known politicians in the country.

The state has an open gubernatorial race this year too—incumbent Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, is term-limited and ineligible to run again—and the governor gets to appoint the person who will oversee the 2024 election in the state. (Unlike many other states, Pennsylvania's secretary of state is not an elected position.)

That's significant because the winner of the Republican gubernatorial primary, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, was endorsed by former President Donald Trump and previously attended the January 6, 2021, protest at the U.S. Capital after Trump's defeat. Mastriano claims that he did not participate in the riot and that he walked away from the scene once violence started. That said, photos and videos from the scene show Mastriano beyond police barricades outside the Capitol, though no evidence has emerged that he entered the building itself. He has been subpoenaed by the congressional committee investigating the riot.

Opposing Mastriano in that contest will be the state's current attorney general, Josh Shapiro. Shapiro was running unopposed in the Democratic primary on Tuesday—but even that wasn't enough to prevent last-minute drama, as Shapiro tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday.

In Fetterman and Mastriano, Pennsylvania voters from both major parties issued clear signals about rejecting the establishment in favor of candidates who promise dramatic changes even at the risk of more chaotic politics. Fetterman's victory over Lamb (and the ease of it) probably says as much about the direction of the Democratic Party in a swing state like Pennsylvania as Mastriano's win does about the Republican Party remaining under Trump's thrall. Both won on the basis of their appeal to voters who hate politics as usual.

Tuesday in Pennsylvania was crazy—and the craziness will continue into Wednesday. And then it's going to get even weirder over the next five months.