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Landslide Victory For Republican In Pennsylvania Special Election

A special election put fresh wind into Republican sails last night in Pennsylvania’s 12th district. Republican Fred Keller handily defeated Democrat Marc Friedenberg by a 35-point margin. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Keller garnered just under 68 percent of the vote.

The lopsided victory was not unexpected in the Trump-heavy district located in rural north-central and northeastern Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania’s congressional districts were redrawn in 2018 after the state’s Supreme Court ruled gerrymandering illegal so the district was completely different in 2016, but Roll Call notes that the areas that make up the current 12th district voted for Donald Trump by 36 points that year. Trump traveled to the district to endorse Keller as well as a recording a robocall and tweeting about the Republican candidate.

Keller is a seasoned politician who has been a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives since 2010. Friedenburg is an attorney who teaches cyber law and global economics at Penn State.  

Republican Tom Marino previously represented the district. Marino was first elected in 2010 and won re-election in 2018, also against Friedenburg, with an almost identical share of the vote. Marino resigned in January 2019, originally saying that he was taking a job in the private sector. The cancer survivor ultimately admitted that his resignation was due to problems with his one remaining kidney.

While Republicans can breathe a sigh of relief at retaining the seat, the special election should not be considered a bellwether for President Trump’s 2020 chances. The 12th district leaned more heavily Republican in both 2016 and 2018 than the rest of the state. Keller maintained the Republican advantage there but did not increase previous Republican margins.

Donald Trump won Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes in 2016 by just over a half percent of the vote. In doing so, he became the first Republican to win the state since Ronald Reagan in 1988. More recent polling shows that Trump’s standing in the state has slipped despite his protective tariffs designed to help the state’s steel industry. The most recent state polling available shows the president with a net disapproval of seven points in the state. Similarly, a new Quinnipiac poll shows Trump trailing Joe Biden, the likely Democratic nominee, by double-digits.

Pennsylvania isn’t a must-win state for Donald Trump, but it does narrow his path to re-election considerably if he loses the state. This is especially true since his margins are also negative in most other swing and Rust Belt states.

Republicans will be celebrating the landslide victory in the Keystone State, but they should not take a false sense of security from the win. Keeping Pennsylvania in the red column next year will take a lot of work and luck.

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