By Jim EllisJan. 29, 2019 — While most of the special election banter surrounds the still undecided North Carolina situation (NC-9), the first new election of the year has just been scheduled.
With Pennsylvania Rep. Tom Marino’s (R-Williamsport) surprise announcement earlier this month that he was resigning from the House, a move he made official on Jan. 23 to accept a position in the private sector, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) has already called the replacement special election to fill the new vacancy.
As expected, Gov. Wolf made the 12th District special election concurrent with the Pennsylvania statewide municipal primary, which is scheduled for May 21. There will be only the one election, and the candidate receiving the most votes, regardless of percentage attained, will serve the balance of the current term.
In the meantime, the 15 county chairmen from the qualified political parties will schedule a convention in the district to choose their respective nominee. Generally, the convention is weighted to accurately reflect the population spread throughout the district. Therefore, the most populous counties within the 12th CD, Lycoming and part of Centre that together possess 29 percent of the district’s population, will likely have a commensurate number of votes at the special nominating convention.
The rumor attracting the most attention is speculation that former Rep. Lou Barletta, the 2018 Republican US Senate nominee, may be interested in already returning to Congress.
Barletta has not yet ruled out entering the race but says a family issue will prevent him from undertaking serious consideration for several days. His former 11th District, however, encompassed only about 20 percent of what is now the new 12th CD, post-adoption of the 2017 state Supreme Court-mandated redistricting plan. And, his hometown of Hazelton lies in the 8th CD, while the majority of his previous constituency resides in the new 9th District. Therefore, the set-up is less than ideal for a Barletta comeback.
One individual who has already declared that he will present his name before the special nominating convention is state Rep. Fred Keller (R-Mifflinburg) who was initially elected to the legislature in 2010.
In addition to Barletta and Keller, an additional 10 Republicans’ names have surfaced as possible candidates including state Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-Centre County), and state House Majority Whip Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre County) who was originally elected in 1996. Rounding out the potential field are several other state legislators and local officials.
Two Democrats are also being mentioned, college professor Marc Friedenberg who has already announced his candidacy, and Northumberland County Commissioner Kym Best.
The 12th District, as the state Supreme Court constructed the boundaries, begins just west of Harrisburg and travels all the way to the New York border. The CD encompasses 13 whole counties, and parts of Centre and Northumberland.
President Trump carried the new 12th with a whopping 66-30 percent margin. Four years earlier, Mitt Romney’s margin was 61-37 percent, while John McCain topped then-Sen. Barack Obama 57-42 percent. Therefore, whoever comes through the Republican convention will have the clear inside track to win the special election.
Similar things were said at the beginning of the special election cycle in the former 18th CD during the last cycle, however, and Democrat Conor Lamb defeated Republican Rick Saccone after a similar special convention chose them. But that district was approximately a net 10 points more Democratic than this new 12th CD.