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Dems win, but state still split

Political Notebook

The depth of Tuesday’s Democratic “blue wave” is still a matter of debate — with some states still counting votes and some races still flipping — but the result underscored deepening geographic divisions across Pennsyl­vania.

Democrats flipped three net seats in the state’s 18-member House delegation, leaving both parties with an even nine seats in the split purple state. The wins follow a state Supreme Court mandate for a new map and new districts, which had reversed years of partisan line-drawing.

Democratic wins were concentrated in the Pitts­burgh and Philadelphia suburbs, where open races in newly drawn districts left them a chance to capitalize on President Donald Trump’s unpopularity. Outside Pittsburgh, freshman Rep. Conor Lamb won his second seat in a year, knocking out GOP incumbent Keith Rothfus.

If anything, deeply partisan districts have become more thoroughly locked in place since the court drew its new map. In Pittsburgh, Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle went from an easy 50-point win over a 2016 challenger to no challenger at all.

In central Pennsylvania, conservative districts remained thoroughly in GOP hands — by greater margins than in the past, in some cases, despite a surge of Democratic enthusiasm.

Political newcomer John Joyce, an Altoona dermatologist and ally of Rep. Bill Shuster, handily defeated Saint Francis University professor Brent Ottaway in the new 13th District with 70 percent of the vote. That’s a greater margin than Shuster won since his early days in office, outside the 2010 wave that flipped Congress to the Republicans.

To the north, Rep. Glenn Thompson overcame a challenge from Indiana Univer­sity of Pennsylvania professor Susan Boser, winning a newly drawn 15th District with his biggest margin since 2010.

Several Pennsylvania districts remain narrowly divided: Around Harrisburg and in the eastern suburbs, Republi­cans held onto a handful of seats national Democrats had long targeted. NBC exit polls from Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial and Senate races show clear demographic divides, with women and nonwhite voters overwhelmingly favoring Democrats, men evenly split between the parties and white voters equally divided.

As Franklin & Marshall College political analyst G. Terry Madonna noted in a column this week, the statewide split points to a deepening division in a state that could remain pivotal in 2020.

“A split decision doesn’t mean there was no decision,” Madonna said. “But it does mean the electorate decided to remain undecided — and the country remains embattled in its bitterest political struggle since the late ’60s and the Vietnam War civil rights era.”

Shuster gavel to Dem

It can’t be denied: Shuster left his position at the right moment.

The longtime congressman’s departure from the House comes just as Democrats sweep into power there, replacing committee chairs and taking over the process by which bills reach the floor.

Shuster announced he was stepping down just as his three-term limit atop the House Transportation and Infrastructure Com­mittee neared its end. Shuster got the powerful job in 2012, years after his father, Bud Shuster, held it for decades.

Washington commentators had initially speculated Shuster would seek another committee chairmanship, extending his influence in Congress. But when he announced plans to leave the House, his gavel was left to the next ranking member.

That honor falls to Pete DeFazio, D-Ore., who worked with and against Shuster on several infrastructure and transportation bills. DeFazio opposed some of Shuster’s later efforts, including a scheme to privatize the nation’s air-traffic control network.

Dems claw back seats

While Pennsylvania didn’t get the state legislative flip other states enjoyed, Democrats here could breathe a sigh of relief as the GOP loosened its grip in Harrisburg.

Alongside an easy win for Gov. Tom Wolf against challenger Scott Wagner, Democrats chipped away at Republican Senate control — and eliminated the veto-proof majority the GOP enjoyed there.

As in Congress, the victories were concentrated in the suburbs around Pitts­burgh and Philadelphia. Republicans maintain near-total control in the center of the state and retained simple majorities in both chambers.

Shapiro probes site

With Pittsburgh and the nation’s Jewish communities still recovering from the Oct. 27 attack that killed 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue, Pennsyl­vania’s attorney general has launched an investigation into the website where shooter Robert Bowers communicated with fellow extremists.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro issued a subpoena to a hosting service that serves Gab, the “free speech”-minded social media site known as a gathering place for far-right extremists and antisemites. Bowers obliquely announced his plans to carry out the attack shortly before he attacked the synagogue, and users there have honored him since his capture.

Shapiro’s office has not released details on the investigation, which was exposed by Gab in a series of posts last week.

Gab’s directors deny sympathy to white supremacy and antisemitism, and lashed out at Shapiro in a now-deleted tweet.

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