By Jim Ellis
Feb. 22, 2018 — A day after the court-imposed Pennsylvania congressional map was instituted, much action is occurring in and around the new districts. A more in-depth look at the now available political numbers, for example, tells a somewhat different story than the one gleaned from simply looking at the new map configuration.
Before discussing the historical numbers and trends, several non-mathematical happenings also transpired.
First, as promised, Republicans filed a federal lawsuit against the new plan, a complaint that largely attacks the state Supreme Court for usurping legislative duties, and less about the districts themselves. The Republicans also make the sub-point that no legal challenge from any party had been leveled against the previous map even though the map cleared the legislative process and stood through three complete election cycles.
The GOP is asking the federal court system to stay the new map until the appropriate judicial panel hears their case. Such a rendering would reinstate the 2011 plan for the current election cycle. Since the revised congressional candidate filing deadline is March 20, we can expect the ruling authorities, most likely the US Supreme Court, to quickly signal an intent.
Assuming the new map stands, Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Philadelphia), whose Montgomery County-anchored 13th District was split into three southeastern Pennsylvania districts, announced that he will run in District 2. The new PA-2 is predominantly a downtown Philadelphia district that features a voting history where Republicans don’t even reach 30 percent of the vote. This leaves new District 4, where the other large section of his 13th District now resides, as an open seat. The new 4th, where Republicans fare better than in the 2nd but still don’t come close to winning, will elect a freshman Democrat if the court map survives its legal challenge.
The 18th District special election is likely to become even more interesting in light of the redistricting situation. Candidates Rick Saccone (R) and Conor Lamb (D) face each other in the March 13 election to replace resigned Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh). But, the new map drastically changes the current 18th, placing 57 percent of its territory in the new 14th District and splits the remaining 43 percent into three other districts. This means the winner could find himself in a precarious position in running for a full term in the new district, while the loser might see new political opportunities.
Once the election is decided on March 13, the two candidates would have one week to decide their regular election plan. It is most likely that the winner, particularly if it is Republican Saccone, will choose to run in the new 14th. If Democrat Lamb were to win, however, he might find the neighboring 17th District as a better landing opportunity for long-term tenure in the House, but he would have another tough initial race in front of him. GOP Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Sewickley) would likely run in the 17th, but with the inclusion of much more Democratic sections from Allegheny County, this district becomes a toss-up with the nominee from each party having about an equal chance of attaining victory.
Should Lamb lose the special, speculation is mounting that he could still turn around and challenge Rothfus in this politically marginal district since he has proven himself a worthy candidate irrespective of how the 18th District election resolves itself.
For Saccone, who will likely be out of money should he win the special, he could rapidly find himself forced into another immediate election within a 14th District (May 15 primary) that would contain almost half of a new constituency. In this scenario, the new congressman could be vulnerable in a Republican primary, as several GOP state and local officials could become congressional candidates in what will be a “Safe R” seat.
In terms of the map itself, more available political statistics show a plan that would almost assuredly elect eight Republicans and five Democrats in every election. Five more seats would be highly competitive, four of those currently in Republican hands. Therefore, should the Republicans sweep all five of the competitive districts, they theoretically could retain their 13-5 delegation majority, but such an outcome is very unlikely.
The sleeper story is that Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Moosic/Scranton) would find himself in a new northeastern Pennsylvania 8th District that would elect its share of Republicans. In fact, the Cook PVI rating actually shows almost a one-point advantage for a typical Republican candidate. An aggressive GOP candidate, capitalizing upon President Trump’s 53-44 percent showing here, could force Rep. Cartwright into a surprising toss-up situation.
On the Republican side, retiring Rep. Charlie Dent’s (R-Allentown) Lehigh Valley seat becomes a pure toss-up, with the Democrats obtaining the slightest of advantages. Republican incumbents Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Levittown), Ryan Costello (R-West Chester), and Mr. Rothfus all fall into toss-up situations. Therefore, the most probable conclusion is the Democrats net a two to three-seat gain that could expand to as many as five if a wave election crests.
The court map does a good job in keeping counties whole. Of the state’s 67 municipal entities only 14 were split, and three of them are larger than a congressional district so, by definition, these latter counties cannot remain whole. Of the 15 counties that have more than 200,000 people but less than those larger than a CD, 10 are kept whole. This complete counties list includes the Philadelphia suburban counties of Bucks, Chester, and Delaware, most of which were split into several districts under the previous draw.