By the 1990s, Pennsylvania and Michigan had become solidly Democratic states in national elections, forming key blocks in the so-called Blue Wall stretching across the northeastern quadrant of the country. In 2016, however, both states swung to Republican Donald Trump, albeit by very narrow margins. In the 2022 two midterm election, both states returned to the blue camp, with Democratic candidates outperforming expectations. In all likelihood, Michigan and Pennsylvania will be critical states in the 2024 President presidential election.
In Pennsylvania’s election, several Republican candidates severely stumbled. In the gubernatorial contest, Doug Mastriano took only 42% of the vote. Mastriano’s defeat was expected, as he was widely regarded as an extremist candidate associated with the fringe Christian nationalist movement. The U.S. Senate election in Pennsylvania, in contrast, was expected to be close. Many Republicans were optimistic about the prospects of their candidate, Mehmet Oz. Oz had won a close Republican primary in which the endorsement of radio broadcaster Sean Hannity may have been decisive. But in the end, Oz received only 46.5% of the vote. Many Pennsylvanians were evidently skeptical about Doctor Oz. Beyond political issues, objections focused on his dual Turkish citizenship, his career as a television doctor who dabbled in pseudoscience, and the fact that he had only recently moved to Pennsylvania.
In the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives, the Republican Party also performed poorly, losing 12 seats and control of the body. Comparing the 2022 election map to that of 2016, the biggest difference is the massive loss of support for Republicans in the affluent southeastern corner of the state, located in the Philadelphia metropolitan region. The Democrats also gained a seat in the Pennsylvania State Senate, although they did not win control. In the 2022 U.S. House of Representatives election in Pennsylvania, the Republicans lost a seat while the Democrats held steady (the state dropped a seat in redistricting). Yet in terms of the popular U.S. House vote, the Republicans triumphed, taking 52.6% of the vote. This result show that Pennsylvania is still a purple state, one in which Republicans can win if they put forward the right candidates.
Pennsylvania is deeply divided by electoral geography. The eastern part of the state, particularly the Philadelphia metropolitan area, is now firmly in the blue category, as is the Pittsburgh metropolitan area in the west. Contrastingly, central Pennsylvania, often disparagingly referred to as “Pennsatucky,” is in general a socially conservative area that leans in a strikingly populist direction. In the 2016 Republican presidential primary election, Donald Trump won Pennsylvania handily, with 58% of the vote. Not surprisingly, Pennsylvania Republicans were able to nominate a number of Trumpian populists who were not competitive in the 2022 election.
Trump was not nearly as popular in Michigan in the 2016 Republican primary election as he was in Pennsylvania, taking only 37% of the state’s vote. But Michigan Republicans nominated several very conservative candidates in 2022. They had high hopes for their gubernatorial choice, Tudor Dixon, widely regarded as a charismatic candidate. Dixon’s opponent, incumbent Gretchen Whitmer, was viewed by many as vulnerable, partly because of her rather draconian COVID policies. In the end, however, Whitmer triumphed handily, taking 54.9% of the vote. She won in several counties in the Lower Peninsula that have often supported Republican candidates (compare the 2022 and 2014 maps). Abortion may have been a crucial factor in this election. Tudor Dixon was noted for her strong pro-life stance, opposing abortion even in cases of incest and rape. In the same election, Michiganders gave 56.6 percent of their vote to a referendum “Creat[ing] a Constitutional Right to Reproductive Freedom.” The Republicans Party also lost a Michigan seat in the US House of Representatives, as well as the state’s popular House vote, albeit by a narrow margin. Michigan Democrats took control of both chambers of the state legislature, gaining four seats in the senate and three in the house.
Although Donald Trump is still polling ahead of other possible Republican contenders for the presidency in 2024 and is therefore the apparently front-runner, the 2022 elections in Michigan and Pennsylvania indicate that he would difficulty winning these crucial states. Although several right-populist pundits and politicians, including Ohio Senator-elect J.D. Vance, have warned against blaming Trump for the disappointing Republican tallies in 2022, the Michigan and Pennsylvania results point in a different direction.