Nov. 10, 2015 — On Friday, veteran Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Joe Pitts, first elected to the US House in 1996 after spending 24 consecutive years in the state legislature, announced that he will not seek re-election next year. Pitts’ retirement means that 27 seats are now open in the 2016 election cycle — 16 from Republican districts compared to 11 Democratic.
The congressman serves on the Energy & Commerce Committee, where he is fifth in seniority and chairs the Health Subcommittee. His 16th District is anchored in the cities of Reading and Lancaster, though the congressman hails from Kennett Square just north of Wilmington, Del. The seat is reliably Republican, though the Democrats could become competitive with the right candidate. Mitt Romney carried the district 52-46 percent in 2012, but then-Sen. Barack Obama slipped passed John McCain here four years earlier, 50-49 percent.
The name most mentioned as a potential successor is Republican state Sen. Lloyd Smucker. Lancaster County Commissioner Scott Martin (R) is also a prospective candidate, but reports suggest that he is more likely to seek Smucker’s open state Senate seat should the latter run for Congress.
Alabama, Arkansas Filings
Alabama — With early presidential nomination events occurring in March, some states are holding their 2016 primaries concurrently. Two of those, Alabama and Arkansas, feature the earliest filing periods in the country. Alabama closed Friday, while Arkansas ended Monday.
Yellowhammer State Sen. Richard Shelby (R) is drawing six opponents, four in the Republican primary. None appear to be serious threats. Within the Republican field of challengers, the only person who has ever won an election is former state Sen. Shadrack McGill.
In the House delegation all seven members have some competition for 2016, but three will not see major party general election opposition. Representatives Bradley Byrne (R-AL-1), Martha Roby (R-AL-2), and Robert Aderholt (R-AL-4), assuming they all win re-nomination, will face no Democratic opponent in November.
None of the primary challenges look particularly serious. Rep. Byrne again finds real estate developer Dean Young opposing him. Byrne defeated Young for the seat in the 2013 special election, and the latter has repeatedly run unsuccessfully for office. Rep. Roby faces two minor Tea Party candidates, and then an Independent in November. Rep. Aderholt faces one first-time primary opponent, and is virtually assured of re-election.
Though he has Democratic opposition in the general election, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-AL-3) may have drawn the most serious Republican primary opponent. Larry DiChiara is the former Selma City Schools Superintendent, but this city is not in the 3rd District. Even this challenge is not expected to develop.
Representatives Mo Brooks (R-AL-5), Gary Palmer (R-AL-6), and Terri Sewell (D-AL-7) each have minimal general election opposition. All seven incumbents are expected to return to the House without having to wage major campaigns.
Arkansas — Sen. John Boozman (R) stands for his first re-election, and will likely face Democratic recruit Conner Eldridge (D), a former US Attorney. Ex-lieutenant governor and senatorial candidate Bill Halter (D), as he was the case when he challenged 2010 incumbent Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D), was poised be a late entry into this contest when filing closed late yesterday.
In the four House races, three-term Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AR-1) may only face an Independent candidate, unless a Democrat comes forward today.
Freshman Rep. French Hill (R-AR-2), in what could arguably be described as the state’s most competitive district, will likely square-off against former Little Rock School Board President Dianne Curry (D) and a Libertarian candidate. Curry was also an unsuccessful lieutenant governor contender in 2014.
Three-term Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR-3) is likely to face a primary and general election opponent, as well as a Libertarian candidate. At this point, the opponents are not capable of constructing formidable campaigns, so Rep. Womack should have an easy time winning another re-election.
In the 4th District, freshman Republican Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Hot Springs) may draw only Libertarian opposition.
The Arkansas filings were completed as of last night, and barring any major surprises, the congressional delegation will return intact. Sen. Boozman will be rated a strong early favorite to win a second term regardless of what happens on the Democratic side.