Tag Archives: Pennsylvania

Mapping Out the
Open Seat Opportunities

By Jim Ellis

US-House-of-Representatives-balance-of-power-November-2017Nov. 16, 2017 — If the Democrats are to capture the House majority next year, they will have to score well in the burgeoning open seat category, but so far the map does not appear particularly favorable for them. Though a strong showing in the 2017 odd-year elections, particularly in Virginia, gives them a boost headed into the midterm vote, Democrats still have a significant task ahead in order to gain ground within the House open seat universe.

Witnessing six new retirement announcements since the end of October, in part because the Dec. 11 Texas candidate filing deadline for 2018 is fast approaching thus forcing early campaign decisions, the open-seat contingent has significantly changed during the past month.

Currently, counting the PA-18 vacant seat that will be decided in a March 13 special election, 36 seats are coming open next year. Monday’s retirement pronouncement from Lone Star State Rep. Gene Green (D-Houston) brings the Democratic open protect count to 11 seats, meaning 25 incumbent-less Republican districts remain.

But, carefully looking at the GOP open-seat inventory yields very few highly competitive districts. One can argue, and we do, that the number of endangered Republican seats is only two: retiring veteran Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s (R-Miami) South Florida district, and south New Jersey Rep. Frank LoBiondo’s (R-Ventnor City) CD.

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A New Nominee; Another Retirement

By Jim Ellis

Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh)

Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh)

Nov. 15, 2017 — Though almost all of the weekend political media coverage focused on the Alabama Senate campaign and the sexual impropriety allegations against former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R), over 800 miles from the heart of Dixie another group of Republicans was choosing a nominee to fill a US House vacancy.

In late October, yet another sex scandal-tainted political figure, Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh), succumbed to the pressure against him and announced that he would resign from the House. Quickly, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) called the special election to fill the new vacancy for March 13. Each 18th District political party organization then had the responsibility of meeting in convention to choose their respective congressional nominee.

On Saturday, 215 Republican conferees from the CD’s four counties decided among three candidates, all members of the Pennsylvania legislature. An additional state representative, Jason Ortitay (R-Bridgeville), originally announced that he, too, would stand for nomination but decided the morning of the convention to withdraw.

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The Emerging Senate Cycle

By Jim Ellis

Tennessee state flag

Tennessee state flag

Oct. 25, 2017 — Though we still have more than two full months remaining in calendar year 2017, the 2018 US Senate field is beginning to take clear shape. With 34 statewide contests to be decided, including the Alabama special election that will conclude Dec. 12, no fewer than 10 campaigns are basically set. Action is occurring in an additional 13 states suggesting that some sort of primary or general election competition will soon come to the forefront. Eleven incumbents seeking re-election are rated as “safe” at the present time.

Former Tennessee US Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-Crockett County) announced Monday that he would join the open US Senate Republican primary battle, attempting to succeed retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R). This race already appears to be evolving into a possible two-way primary between ex-Rep. Fincher and current 7th District veteran incumbent Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood).

Andy Ogles, the former Tennessee director for Americans for Prosperity, remains in the race after launching what is now a moot primary challenge to Sen. Corker but it is unclear how strong he will be now that several conservative organizations are already beginning to coalesce behind Rep. Blackburn.

The only other bit of Volunteer State intrigue centers around Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen and whether he will enter the statewide contest. Originally, Bredesen took himself out of consideration, but now agrees to consider becoming a candidate. He says a decision will be forthcoming in a matter of weeks. Without Bredesen, the Democrats would likely concede the seat to the eventual Republican nominee since other strong potential candidates, specifically US Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Nashville) and Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, have already said they will not run.

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A Shocking Retirement

By Jim Ellis

New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (R-Rochester)

New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (R-Rochester)

Oct. 10, 2017 — Since Pennsylvania Rep. Lou Barletta (R-Hazelton) announced he would run for the US Senate in late August, and after an additional eight US House seats opened in the succeeding weeks, none were as surprising as the latest one announced on Friday.

New Hampshire Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (R-Rochester), who represents the one seat that has defeated more incumbents than any other in the last decade including herself twice, announced that she will not seek re-election in 2018.

Her departure reasons were not part of the retirement statement but, for a woman who first came to Congress in 2006, was defeated in 2010, returned in 2012, and then lost again in 2014 before winning once more last November, her voluntary departure was certainly not predicted. Shea-Porter claimed another term in 2016, but with only 44 percent of the vote in part due to three Independent and minor party candidates taking more than 12.6 percent, but the number represented her lowest victory percentage.

Since the 2006 election, inclusive, the NH-1 electorate has consistently defeated its incumbent. In only 2008 was a US representative (Shea-Porter) here re-elected. The district encompasses New Hampshire’s eastern half, including the state’s largest city of Manchester, the Seacoast region, and the mountain area that hugs the Maine border. In the past six elections, the largest recorded win percentage was 54 percent (Republican Frank Guinta in 2010), while Shea-Porter never exceeded 51.7 percent.

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With Murphy Out in PA, Corker Out in TN, Who Will Fill the Vacancies?

By Jim Ellis

Rep. Tim Murphy  (R-Pittsburgh)

Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh)

Oct. 9, 2017 — A new special US House election will soon be on tap, this time in southwestern Pennsylvania in PA-18. Beleaguered Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh) succumbed to the negative publicity leaking out about his extra-marital affairs, abortion hypocrisy, and internal relations with staff members to announce late last week that he will resign his congressional office effective Oct. 21. This, just a day after he made public his intention not to seek re-election but serve the balance of the current term.

Once the seat is vacant, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) will call a special election to choose a replacement. Since the Nov. 7 municipal elections occur less than three full weeks after Rep. Murphy departs, that means holding a new special congressional contest concurrently with the regular off-year vote would be impossible. Therefore, it is probable a mid-December or post-January 1st election will be scheduled.

There will be no primary period. Under Pennsylvania law, the parties will meet in district conclaves and local delegates will select the respective nominees.

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Pennsylvania’s Importance

Pennsylvania Congressional Districts Map (click on image to enlarge to see detail)

Pennsylvania Congressional Districts Map (click on image to enlarge to see detail)

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.

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Senate Candidate Review – Part II

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 26, 2017
— Yesterday, we reviewed the first half of the 33 in-cycle Senate races in terms of serious candidate personnel. Today, the remaining 17 states are covered.

As a reminder, no current Senate incumbent has announced his or her retirement.

(Regular type means the individual is an announced contender; italics denote possible candidate.)

NEVADA — TOSS UP
Sen. Dean Heller (R)
Danny Tarkanian (R) – Businessman, frequent candidate
Rep. Jacky Rosen (D) – US Representative, 3rd District
Rep. Dina Titus (D) – US Representative, 1st District

NEW JERSEY — LIKELY D
Sen. Bob Menendez (D)
• Sen. Menendez federal trial has frozen potential Democratic and Republican Senate hopefuls. After the Menendez legal situation is decided, much could happen in this state.

NEW MEXICO — LIKELY D
Sen. Martin Heinrich (D)
Mick Rich (R) – State Labor Commission member
Richard Berry (R) – Albuquerque mayor
John Sanchez (R) – Lt. Governor

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Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent
Announces Departure

By Jim Ellis

Sep. 12, 2017 — A day after Pennsylvania conservative state Rep. Justin Simmons (R-Coopersburg) officially declared his Republican primary challenge to Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Allentown), the congressman announced that he would not seek an eighth term in the House.

It is unlikely the Simmons challenge forced Dent from Congress, but the overall political climate certainly contributes to his retiring. Dent has been one of President Trump’s top Republican critics. The congressman, age 57, reminded his supporters, however, that he originally planned to only serve five or six terms and will be in elective office for 28 consecutive years once his final term in the House comes to a close at the beginning of 2019. He was originally elected to the state House of Representatives in 1990, serving until his election to the state Senate in 1998, and then to Congress in 2004.

Democrats will now be looking to target the open 15th District, which stretches from the Allentown-Bethlehem area all the way west on Interstate 78 to the outer reaches of Harrisburg. The 15th District was more of a swing district before 2011 redistricting, however. Now, it performs as a reliably Republican seat.

The Allentown-Bethlehem district was solidly in Democratic hands from 1952 through 1978, when Republican Don Ritter upset eight-term Democratic Congressman Fred Rooney (D-Bethlehem) in that latter year. Ritter would represent the Lehigh Valley until 1992 when he lost to Democrat Paul McHale. McHale (D-Bethlehem) then retired after serving three terms. In 1998, businessman Pat Toomey (R-Allentown) converted the seat for the GOP and held it for three terms until he unsuccessfully challenged then-Republican Sen. Arlen Specter in the 2004 GOP primary.

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Strange Still Down, Lashes Back

(Alabama Sen. Luther Strange campaign’s latest ad)

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 11, 2017 — A new Alabama Senate Republican runoff poll was released late last week, and it provides a similar result but with potentially the same skew as we saw from earlier surveys.

According to the Southeast Research firm (Aug. 29-31; 401 likely Alabama GOP runoff voters), former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore enjoys a 52-36 percent advantage over appointed Sen. Luther Strange. But, in comparison with two other polls, the number of evangelicals who comprise the respondent universe may be overestimated. In this particular Southeast Research poll, 79.5 percent of the Republican respondents are self-identified evangelicals. Within this segment, Moore commands a 54-32 percent margin, and 58-32 percent among those who consider themselves conservatives.

Conversely, Sen. Strange performs best with those identifying as non-evangelical Christian voters. Within this much smaller segment, Strange receives a clear majority of 55 percent versus Moore’s 40 percent. The appointed incumbent also attracts stronger support with self-described moderates. Within this segment cluster, Strange’s edge is 49-39 percent.

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Another Trump Appointment;
A Double-Digit West Virginia Poll

By Jim Ellis

Sept. 7, 2017 — White House personnel this week announced that President Trump will nominate Pennsylvania Rep. Tom Marino (R-Williamsport) as the new director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy. The appointment was expected to happen much earlier in the year, but a serious illness in the congressman’s family forced him to ask the administration for a postponement.

Should Rep. Marino move quickly through the confirmation process we would likely see another congressional special election called, similar to the situation involving Rep. Jim Bridenstine’s (R-OK) appointment as NASA administrator, in order to fill the remainder of the current term.

There is a good bet, however, that Senate Democrats will want to delay Marino’s confirmation as long as possible. With a live redistricting lawsuit making its way through the Pennsylvania court system, the Dems hope a potential re-draw will significantly change the statewide map, and specifically this district, in time for the 2018 regular election.

The 10th District, which contains 10 complete Pennsylania counties and parts of five others, occupies the entire northeastern corner of the Keystone State that borders New York and New Jersey, encompasses the territory around the cities of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, and then shoots southwest past the Harrisburg-Carlisle area as far as the Tuscarora State Forest. Since 1952 inclusive, the district has voted Democratic only three times in congressional elections. During much of the succeeding six decades, veteran Rep. Joe McDade (R-Scranton) represented the region. He was in office for 36 years from the early 60s to the late 90s.

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Special Elections Today

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 15, 2017 — Voters go to the polls today in the long-awaited Alabama special US Senate primary, the first tangible step in permanently replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions. As we know, Sessions resigned his Senate seat early in the year to accept the top law enforcement position in the Trump administration.

Most of the special election campaign action is on the Republican side, as appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R) fights to secure a run-off position.

With the nine GOP candidates clearly attracting enough support to prevent any one of them from capturing a majority and winning the party nomination outright today, moving to a Sept. 26 run-off vote appears certain. Polling suggests that former state Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore will seize the first run-off position, but with 40 percent or less support. Sen. Strange and Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) are fighting for the second qualifying position with the other six candidates lagging behind.

The latest poll from the Trafalgar Group (Aug. 8-10; 1,439 likely Alabama GOP primary voters from more than 50,000 contacts), perhaps the most accurate survey research firm because of their most recent track record, finds Judge Moore capturing 35 percent support, with Sen. Strange far back at 23 percent and Rep. Brooks closing to 20 percent.

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Michigan Poll; Delaney for President

By Jim Ellis

Aug. 1, 2017 — A poll released last week that placed entertainer Robert Ritchie (Kid Rock) ahead of Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) generated a great deal of news coverage, but the Delphi Analytica survey didn’t appear reliable. A new credible Michigan Senate survey followed, however, and actually seems to confirm that Ritchie could become a viable candidate.

The Delphi Analytica poll was never available on the reported web links and showing Sen. Stabenow, who is completing her third term with respectable approval ratings, with only 26 percent support failed to make sense.

The Trafalgar Group, on the other hand, is a reliable pollster. The only survey research firm to correctly forecast Donald Trump victories in Pennsylvania and Michigan, the Atlanta-based firm also projected Republican Karen Handel to defeat Democrat Jon Ossoff in the Georgia special congressional election last month when most pollsters were predicting the opposite. Now, the company’s new Michigan Senate study (July 25-27; 1,078 likely Michigan voter respondents from more than 50,000 attempted calls) finds Ritchie in a virtual dead heat with Sen. Stabenow.

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The Crystal Ball:
Points of Disagreement

By Jim Ellis

July 31, 2017 — University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato has released his latest “Crystal Ball” political ratings, but further arguments must come to the forefront about some of his individual race categorizations.

In the first part of his latest report, Sabato illustrates that the number of Democrats already running for Congress shatters the new candidate rate of previous off-election years. Currently, 209 Democrats have declared themselves as US House candidates at this point in the election cycle, obliterating the mean average of 42.6 derived from the period beginning in 2003 to the present. For Republicans, 28 non-incumbent candidates have currently declared, well below their non-election year average of 42.8 within the same post-2003 time frame.

But, so many Democratic candidates are declaring in the same districts, thus skewing the situation. For example, in the 14 seats where a GOP incumbent voted in favor of the healthcare legislation sitting in a district that Hillary Clinton carried, 57 Democratic candidates have already declared. In the seven competitive California Republican seats where national Democratic Party leaders pledge to heavily contest, 34 Dems have become candidates, though duplication does exist to some extent between the two aforementioned categories. In three more sites featuring presumed competitive 2018 campaigns: AZ-2 (Rep. Martha McSally, R-Tucson), FL-27 (open seat; Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami), and VA-10 (Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-McLean), an additional 23 candidates are competing within this trio of CDs.

Therefore, we find in these 16 unique, prime, targeted congressional seats, a total of 72 individuals who are active Democratic candidates. We also know today that 56 of these competitors will lose their primary because, of course, every district can only nominate one candidate per political party.

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More on the House

By Jim Ellis

June 27, 2017 — Yesterday, we examined the House’s post-special election status and speculated upon the Democrats’ chances of wresting majority control away from Republicans during the coming regular campaigns. One of the obstacles that make the Democrats’ task difficult is that only 15 early seats are open, and Republicans risk just nine of the total sum.

What could bring Democrats greater opportunity is the number of potentially open seats — that is, where members are, reportedly, considering running for another office. In this category, 18 incumbents are said to be contemplating different political moves that, if executed, would send their current seats into the open category.

Of the 18, only two are Democrats. Should Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) draw a major Republican primary opponent, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Phoenix) is likely to jump into the Arizona statewide race thinking her victory chances become more realistic if Flake is forced to battle through a difficult intra-party contest. In Maryland, Rep. John Delaney (D-Potomac) is still reportedly considering entering the governor’s race to challenge incumbent Larry Hogan (R). The Democratic field is expanding, however, with former NAACP president Ben Jealous and Prince Georges County Executive Rushern Baker just recently announcing their candidacies, so Rep. Delaney’s decision is likely becoming more difficult.

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Looking at the House

By Jim Ellis

June 27, 2017 — For a brief instant, until Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT-3) resigns later this week, the House has a full compliment of 435 members, which means now is a good time to survey 2018 election cycle prospects.

There has been a great deal of speculation, particularly before the GA-6 special election that Democrats had hoped to win, that Republicans are in danger of losing their majority in the coming regular election. But, what do the numbers actually say?

In looking at the overall picture much depends upon realistic chances that congressional district maps in Pennsylvania and Texas could be changed via redistricting court rulings before the next election. Should this happen in the two states, certain districts currently rated safe or likely to go to one party or the other could be significantly altered. Therefore, this pair of domains with large Republican majorities (Pennsylvania: 13R-5D; Texas: 25R-11D) could become 2018 electoral wild cards.

Since the post-reapportionment maps were finalized after the 2010 census, three states: Florida, North Carolina and Virginia, have been re-drawn. The three new maps combined resulted in Democrats gaining a net of two seats, an increase far below what was projected. Potential exists for further re-drawing in Wisconsin and again in North Carolina, but the US Supreme Court agreeing to hear the former state’s political gerrymandering lawsuit now makes the timing for any court-directed map changes in the two places more difficult to implement for the coming election.

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