Yesterday, State Senator John Yudichak (I-14th) switched parties in the Pennsylvania Senate, changing the partisan balance from 26-23 to 27-22. Democrats had high hopes hope of picking up the State Senate for the first time in 26 years next year, but that was when they only needed two seats to flip the chamber. Now they need three seats, which is just about the limit to what is truly possible in 2020. The obvious repercussion to this is that Republicans are more likely to control re-districting in the chamber than they were, which could change the odds of Democrats winning the chamber back in 2022 as well.
There was really no shock, just mild surprise, when Yudichak made the announcement. The timing doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, but the announcement itself looked like it was coming for a while. From his early career disagreements with Congressman Paul Kanjorski, to his later dislike of former PA House Majority Leader Todd Eachus, to his more recent strong disagreements with Governor Tom Wolf and more liberal Senate members from the Southeast part of the Commonwealth, Senator Yudichak has always kind of been a man of his own mind. He’s also been pretty popular over the years though, beating the former Mayor of Wilkes-Barre in the 2010 primary to get to this seat, and most recently facing no primary or general election opponent to retain his seat as a Democrat in 2018. He’s triangulated against the more liberal wing of the party to continue winning as Luzerne and Carbon Counties moved right, and there’s not much reason to believe the general public in that district will suddenly hate him.
There’s something else at work here though- the continuing trend of districts President Trump won moving increasingly red, and districts Secretary Clinton won in 2016 moving blue. The Republicans are on their way to wiping out in Southeastern PA, where they lost the bulk of the seats they held for a generation prior to Trump. On the flip side Western PA outside of Allegheny County is pretty much completely flipped to the GOP at this point. We’re rapidly approaching the point where there aren’t any moderates winning districts that lean away from their party.
Our 2019 election results suggest that we’re reaching the point of peak partisan polarization. At this point, the Republican Party controls the county commissioner board (or equivalent) in all but three counties that President Trump won. The Democratic Party controls the county commissioner board (or equivalent) in every county Secretary Clinton won but one. In other words, we’re beginning to see a strong connection in Pennsylvania between Presidential election voting and voting all the way down to county elections, in odd number years. There’s basically no difference anymore.
We’re seeing the completion of the 2016 election trends. The Republican Party is almost extinct in Southeast PA. The Democratic Party is basically extinct in Western PA, “the T,” and in much of Northeastern PA. This is not going to increase the incentive for either party to compromise and behave more moderately. If anything, we’re seeing it continue towards the opposite.