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,
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
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
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