By Jim Ellis
Oct. 6, 2017 — In every election, it seems one or two states become that cycle’s political focal point and we can already identify which places might serve in such a role for 2018. Along with California for House races, political fortunes in the Keystone State of Pennsylvania could well influence national Senate and House outcomes, while strongly contributing to the national redistricting outlook when the state’s competitive governor’s race is ultimately decided.
Gov. Tom Wolf (D) seeks re-election with improving favorability ratings and will be in a targeted 2018 campaign. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D) is running for a third term and drawing considerable opposition, particularly from US Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Hazelton). US House competition is projected for as many as 11 of the state’s 18 congressional districts, some of which coming in primaries, and a live political gerrymandering lawsuit before the state court system could potentially radically change Pennsylvania’s redistricting maps prior to the next election. Therefore, we see a state teeming with political activity in each of its four corners.
Gov. Wolf came from nowhere in 2014 as a successful York business owner to capture the Democratic nomination, and then proved to become the only member of his party to unseat a Republican governor in what was otherwise a Republican wave election year. He will face his own highly competitive re-election battle next year, as the GOP must re-capture this statehouse to protect its congressional and state legislative gains as a new redistricting cycle will begin during this next governor’s term.
Sen. Casey has scored two relatively easy US Senate victories, building upon the strong bipartisan coalition that his late father, former Gov. Bob Casey Sr. (D), crafted during his time in office. With a great deal of Gov. Casey’s crossover appeal due to his strong positions on the 2nd Amendment and pro-life legislation that accurately reflected his constituency, Sen. Casey has begun to stray from his father’s positions as his seniority grows.
Should Rep. Barletta win the Republican senatorial nomination, his strong approach on these issues and illegal immigration, coupled with robust backing from President Trump who, of course, carried the state in November could make the 2018 Senate campaign an interesting one.
With 18 congressional seats in the state delegation – which, assuredly will drop to 17 and perhaps 16 after reapportionment – the current Republican eight-seat advantage could quickly begin to dissipate. A loss of perhaps five Republican seats here through a combination of converting some of the four open GOP seats and Democrats possibly prevailing in their pending political gerrymandering lawsuit could go a long way toward cobbling together the net 24 seats they need nationally to wrest the House majority away from Republicans.
Pennsylvania already has two potentially competitive open Republican House seats and two safe ones, while another safe Democratic seat could also possibly open. On the latter front, Rep. Bob Brady (D-Philadelphia) is hamstrung by a budding scandal that points to his campaign previously paying off an individual to enter a congressional race in order to draw votes away from the congressman’s stronger Democratic primary opponent. If the participants from his campaign are found guilty of or plead to financing such an act, it is unclear what might happen to Rep. Brady depending upon what he knew and his level of involvement.
In the Pittsburgh area, revelations coming forth that accuse Rep. Tim Murphy (D-Pittsburgh), who has sponsored and co-sponsored pro-life legislation, of impregnating his mistress and then suggesting she have an abortion. The situation forced him to announce last night that he will not seek re-election next year.
In the four Pennsylvania Republican open seats, two are safe (PA-10 and PA-18, Reps. Marino and Murphy, respectively), and the remaining two lean Republican (PA-11 and PA-15: Reps. Barletta and Dent). But, should Democrats win their redistricting lawsuit, and do so before the next election, a potential court-drawn map could drastically change these open seats knowing that no current incumbent will be affected.
In the Philadelphia suburbs, Reps. Ryan Costello (R-West Chester), Pat Meehan (R-Chadds Ford), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Levittown) all will face competitive opposition for their marginal political districts. House Transportation Committee chairman Bill Shuster (R-Hollidaysburg/Altoona) had a difficult time getting past weak opposition in the 2014 and ‘16 Republican primaries, suggesting that he may draw a stronger political foe this year.
Freshman Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R-Lancaster) who defeated a relatively strong Democratic nominee last November will again likely again face his 2016 opponent, businesswoman Christina Hartman (D). Though Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Moosic/Scranton) looks politically strong, his eastern PA 17th District went strongly for President Trump (53-43 percent), so Republicans are looking to file a credible opponent against the three-term Democratic incumbent in hopes of creating an offensive opportunity.
With the competition factor high in PA House races and the redistricting lawsuit hanging over the Pennsylvania political situation, a major swing could occur in the Keystone State next year. Therefore, what unfolds in Pennsylvania through the next election will go a long way toward determining which party controls the US House in the next Congress.