Sep 19, 2023 - Politics

Focus groups: Pa. swing voters view Shapiro as Dems' next darling

Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro looks on as President Biden delivers remarks during an I-95 briefing.

Gov. Josh Shapiro may be waiting in the wings. Photo: Photo: Photo by Julia Nikhinson/AFP via Getty Images

Some Pennsylvania swing voters believe Gov. Josh Shapiro could become the Democrats' next rising star sooner rather than later, according to our latest Engagious/Sago focus groups.

Driving the news: More than a third of Pennsylvania swing voters in two online focus groups conducted last week said they'd like to see Shapiro run for president in 2024 over President Joe Biden.

  • Others felt he needs more experience but should pursue a White House run in 2028.

Why it matters: Shapiro, who took office this year, is among many rookie governors polling favorably during the "honeymoon phase" of their terms, but it remains to be seen whether the moderate Democrat has staying power.

Of note: The two recent Engagious/Sago focus groups, which Axios sat in on, involved 11 Pennsylvanians who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020. Six identified as Republicans, four as Democrats, and one as independent.

  • While a focus group is not a statistically significant sample like a poll, the responses show how some voters are thinking and talking about current events.

State of play: Most participants view Shapiro in glowing terms and say he deserves the lion's share of credit for shepherding Pennsylvania through the I-95 collapse.

Flashback: The highway was reopened in June, 12 days after a deadly tanker fire.

  • Shapiro's handling of the incident was lauded by some as a "presidential moment" that he could use to power a future White House bid.

The intrigue: Some were impressed with what Shapiro accomplished as Pennsylvania's attorney general, including brokering a $26 billion multi-state settlement with drug companies related to the country's opioid crisis.

  • Focus group voters also described Shapiro as a "crime preventer" and a "reasonable" and stable governor who's hip to the younger generation.

What they're saying: "Speedily fixing a collapsed interstate signals competence, trustworthiness, and stability," said Rich Thau, president of Engagious, who moderated the focus groups. "These are characteristics Pennsylvania swing voters want in a president — and don't feel like they've gotten with Biden or Trump."

Zoom in: Focus group member Fred V. was among the voters who want Shapiro in the mix for next year's presidential election, calling him "one of the better picks out there."

  • Others cited Shapiro's "mental acuity" and the 50-year-old's ability to bring credibility to a party with aging Democrats who have fallen out of favor with younger voters.
  • "He can really develop and strengthen a lot of Democratic platforms and kind of bring just a nuanced angle to them," said focus group member Jon D.

Yes, but: While most view Shapiro as having a bright political future, three voters said he needs more time to build up his name nationally and should wait until the next election cycle.

  • "It'd be good to see what he does with our state and then come '28, I think it's better for him, better for his future," Kevin K. said.
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