Allyson Schwartz never understood, even in the waning days of trying to win the Pennsylvania Democrats’ gubernatorial nomination, how voters could possibly reject her candidacy.
Marjorie Margolies never got it, either; she projected an entitlement to winning back the suburban Philadelphia congressional seat she held for one term more than 20 years ago. And in the days after her loss, she didn’t contradict media stories that her son’s in-laws, Bill and Hillary Clinton, didn’t deliver the race for her.
A bit of a news flash: The Clintons have absolutely nothing to do with Margolies’ failure to listen to what voters wanted.
Both women, part of the insider culture of Washington, D.C., were upended by moderate, pragmatic candidates who projected a strong work ethic, rolled up their sleeves at every campaign stop and voiced a willingness to work outside the party machine to fix problems in the district or the state.
Brendan Boyle won in a landslide over Margolies because he knew voters wanted a reformer, someone who would work to fix things in Washington, not just more of the same politics. He will win handily in November in this Democrat-packed House district.
Tom Wolf won over Schwartz in a landslide because he could afford folksy ads projecting himself as a pragmatic problem-solver. His victory in November is less certain; despite incumbent Republican Tom Corbett’s vulnerabilities, both sides expect the governor’s race to be close.
This rejection of a cornucopia of labels — Democrat, entitled, establishment, progressive, liberal — didn’t just happen with candidates on the federal or statewide level; it also occurred on a very micro-level when Pittsburgh voters rejected progressive state Rep. Erin Molchany.
The 32-year-old Molchany, who ran as the champion of liberal causes such as pay equity and ObamaCare, was trounced by 72-year-old moderate Rep. Harry Readshaw. Their two state House seats had been redistricted into one.
The bloodletting by the "raging" middle was not just limited to Democrats, either.
Republican Congressman Bill Shuster, who represents what political scientists call the most conservative House district in the Rust Belt, crushed his right-wing opponent — and he did so with nonstop kitchen-table campaigning, talking about effective governing, flushing out corruption and political reform.
Shuster did not win by talking about social and other typical conservative issues; he won by providing results to his community.
This country is in the midst of a quirky wave election, one that is hard to define and doesn’t want to be labeled. The electorate is moving separately toward the middle of each party and away from the political red meat that pundits and strategists use to drive up wedge issues and voter turnout.
Fading on the right is the control once exercised by such groups as Heritage Action, Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and anything with "tea party" attached to its name.
Same for the left: MoveOn and Organizing for America are not the influencers they once were with Democrats, who largely feel their support of President Obama has not gotten them what they expected.
They were told by these progressive groups that they would get an efficient, engaged, compassionate, transparent leader who would stand up for the little guy. Instead, they got a dispassionate, disengaged figurehead who has divided the country by race, gender and equity, who mouths all the right phrases to get elected but displays no leadership when things get tough.
If Pennsylvania truly is a bellwether state that gives political scientists a way to gauge what is happening in coming elections, then pay attention to what it is telling them after last week’s primary. A restless electorate, weary of strident ideology and class warfare, longs for effective, responsible and transparent governing — and to hell with the political hell-raisers.
People want leadership to be outraged by the scandals that rip apart lives (such as the mishandling of patients by Veterans Affairs) or that pick political winners and losers (as in the IRS targeting of conservatives).
They want political leaders who will get to the bottom of what went wrong in Benghazi so we can try to stop that from happening again.
Politics only seems to make sense when we look backward. Folks are looking to change that in this election cycle.
Salena Zito is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist. E-mail her at [email protected]