They sipped beers, ate ice cream and held lively conversations around high-rise tables. They smiled; they laughed; they even danced to the party playlist blaring overhead. Some people stood on the balls of their feet and watched CNN on one of the many screens set up around The Greater Philadelphia Expo Center.
But for the most part, the hundreds of supporters of Jewish Democrat Josh Shapiro knew what their result would be on Nov. 8. Shapiro, Pennsylvania’s attorney general, an Abington resident and a member of the Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park, would become the commonwealth’s next governor.
“This is a great experience for anyone who’s here tonight,” said Scott Holloman, 42, of Harleysville. “I have 100% faith that Josh will win.”
It happened around 11:15 p.m. On a big screen to the left of the stage in the Oaks, Montgomery County venue, CNN showed a graphic declaring Shapiro the winner.
As media outlets called the race throughout the 10 o’clock hour on social media, supporters moved from their high-rise tables in one room to the area in front of the stage in the next room. Once CNN called the race, attendees hollered and held up their “Shapiro for Governor” signs.
Shapiro, 49, had defeated his Republican opponent Doug Mastriano. The Republican, a state senator who denied Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 U.S. presidential election and participated in the Jan. 6, 2021 storming of the U.S. Capitol Building, took a full five days to concede. But that almost seemed beside the point. The Democrat leads by almost 15% and more than 700,000 votes with 98% of the vote counted.
It seemed beside the point on Nov. 8 at the Expo Center, too. After Shapiro’s running mate Austin Davis addressed the crowd, the governor-elect walked onto the stage, waved to the people and smiled. Then he stepped to the podium.
“Rural, urban, suburban folks across this commonwealth, who I’ve had the opportunity to talk with, you know they basically all want the same thing,” Shapiro said. “They want a real opportunity for good schools, safe communities and an economy that just gives everybody a shot.”
The crowd clapped and hollered.
“We showed in this campaign that no matter what you look like, where you come from, who you love, or who you pray to, you are valued here in Pennsylvania!” Shapiro continued. “And we hear you!”
The supporters cheered in unison.
“And I can stand before you tonight, thanks to all of you, in the birthplace of our democracy, in the cradle of liberty, and look you in the eye and say, ‘Because of you, our democracy endures,’” Shapiro said later on.
Two years ago, Shapiro, in his role as attorney general, defended Pennsylvania’s election process from Trump’s lawsuits that attempted to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory in the state. Mastriano, in his role as a state senator, allied himself with Trump and tried to pass a resolution that would have allowed the state legislature to reject the result of the vote and appoint delegates to the Electoral College. As Mastriano himself wrote on his state Senate website, “For the legislature to pass the resolution, Governor (Tom) Wolf needed to call a special session and he refused.”
During his campaign, the Republican said that as governor, “I could decertify every (voting) machine in the state with the stroke of a pen.” And the stroke of Mastriano’s pen likely would have mattered a great deal. The last two presidential elections, Trump’s win over Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Biden’s victory over Trump in 2020, came down to a few close states, including, and perhaps especially, Pennsylvania. Biden beat Trump by fewer than 100,000 votes in the Keystone State in 2020, while Trump beat Clinton by about 44,000 in the commonwealth in 2016.
The Shapiro-Mastriano fight was about many issues, including crime, the economy and a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. Many Democrats viewed Shapiro as pro-democracy while perceiving his Republican opponent to be against it.
For that reason, even as the party at the Expo Center started hours before CNN declared Shapiro’s victory on Nov. 8, the attorney general’s supporters in attendance were still a little nervous.
“I think it’ll probably be closer than we want it to be,” said Jessica Rosenthal, 47, of Ambler.
Less than an hour after Rosenthal tempered her expectations, CNN flashed an early count from the Pennsylvania governor’s race that showed Shapiro up by more than 30 points. A few people around the Expo Center cheered as they watched the TVs.
As the eight and then nine o’clock hours continued, more results appeared on the screens. Around 9:30, as people started walking over to the area in front of the stage, an event staff member turned up the volume on the big screen to the left. CNN’s John King was discussing Shapiro’s advantage, which remained at about 30 points with almost a quarter of the vote counted. The crowd clapped and hollered.
Over the next 45 minutes, votes continued to come in, except Shapiro’s lead was now diminishing. It dropped from around 30% to less than 20% to 11%. For a few minutes, it felt like the race might get close. Shapiro’s supporters stood around, checked their phones and watched the screens. The event staff and campaign kept turning the party playlist on, off and then back on to try to keep the party going.
But in the minds of many, there was never really a doubt.
“From the projections now, it looks like he’s definitely going to win,” said Irfan Huda, 42, of Chalfont.
Mastriano never got closer than 11%. As the clock struck 10 and the vote count crept into the 60% range, tweets started going out from pollsters and media outlets about how Shapiro had won. President Biden’s White House Chief of Staff Ronald Klain, a prolific liker of tweets that make the president look good, liked a tweet from a political poll account that called the race for Shapiro. (Biden and former President Barack Obama headlined a rally with the Democratic candidate at Temple University’s Liacouras Center on Nov. 5.)
One woman sent out a tweet congratulating Shapiro on beating an insurrectionist. Philadelphia-area newspapers and television stations started reporting the news of the local man’s victory.
By the time CNN announced the result, it was a formality. And when Shapiro walked out on stage minutes later, with the crowd clapping, cheering and holding up phones, he did not even need to open his speech with some great line ending in an exclamation point.
“I am so humbled to see all of you here tonight,” he said, before thanking his wife Lori Shapiro and pointing out their four children Jonah, Sophia, Max and Reuben to the side of the podium.
“I am proud to be a Pennsylvanian,” Shapiro said later.
And then, for good measure, the Conservative Jewish man who sits for Shabbat dinner with his family each week paraphrased his favorite line from the Talmud. The same one he spoke about during his campaign kickoff speech at Penn State Abington in October 2021.
“No one is required to complete the task, but neither are we free to refrain from it,” the governor-elect said.
After Shapiro’s speech ended around midnight, after he hugged his family members and waved to supporters, and after he strolled off the stage, some people walked out to their cars. Reporters hustled back to their tables behind the TV camera riser to file their stories. But the lights stayed on, the music kept playing and a group of people started dancing in front of the stage. PJC
Jarrad Saffren writes for the Jewish Exponent, an affiliated publication where this first appeared.