By Jim Ellis
March 19, 2018 — Though Tuesday’s special election results in western Pennsylvania are not yet even finalized, the two candidates, and others, are making decisions about where to run in the regular election cycle. After the state Supreme Court created a new congressional map for the coming election, they lengthened the candidate filing period from one that closed March 6 to a new deadline of tomorrow, Tuesday, March 20.
Republicans are formally challenging the new map in federal court. A three-judge federal panel has already heard their arguments and the GOP leaders also filed a motion to stay the state court’s mapping decision with the US Supreme Court. Since no ruling has yet come from either judicial panel, incumbents and candidates must move forward with the qualifying process assuming the new map will stand.
Under Pennsylvania election law, congressional candidates must obtain 1,000 valid signatures from registered party members to qualify for the ballot. Since such a process obviously requires time, all candidates, including Rep.-Elect Conor Lamb (D-Pittsburgh) and defeated Republican candidate Rick Saccone, must determine where they will run under this new and very different Keystone State congressional map.
Ironically, one of the districts most affected is the 18th CD where Lamb and Saccone just did battle. The 18th is now split into four different districts. The majority of its constituency, 57 percent, goes to new District 14, a Republican seat where President Trump’s margin over Hillary Clinton was 29 points, a full nine points stronger than the district in which Lamb barely defeated Saccone this past Tuesday. Saccone had said before the election that he would run in new District 14 for the regular cycle and continues to circulate petitions there even after his defeat. Thus, it appears certain he will again run for Congress in the coming regular election campaign.
Twenty percent of the former constituency is placed in new District 17, a Pittsburgh suburban seat farther to the north and west where President Trump won by a scant 49-47 percent margin. It is here where Lamb is now circulating qualifying signature petitions. There, however, he must face three-term incumbent Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Sewickley) in a new district that contains 56 percent of the Republican congressman’s former constituency.
Another 20 percent of the former 18th will go to new District 18, the Pittsburgh city district of Democrat Rep. Mike Doyle. His new district (the previous number was 14), houses 76 percent of the congressman’s former constituency. The remaining two-plus percent of the former 18th goes to new District 13, which is also a safe Republican seat most closely fitting retiring Rep. Bill Shuster’s (R-Hollidaysburg/ Altoona) current 9th CD.
Saccone, however, will again not have an easy path in the coming federal election. The new 14th, while holding 57 percent of the territory where Saccone just ran, includes only a sliver of his state House district, which is where he had been elected four consecutive times. Therefore, without his political base accompanying him, Saccone will face Republican state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Bethel Park), and likely others, in the May 15 GOP primary.
Reschenthaler is circulating congressional petitions in the new 14th, and also ran in the special election but fell to Saccone in the special district nominating convention. Many observers believe that Reschenthaler would have defeated Lamb had he been nominated. On the other hand, the new 14th is more conservative and less unionized that the previous CD 18, which should be a better fit for Saccone than the seat where he unsuccessfully ran.
In other Pennsylvania political news, the Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting that two-term Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Chester County) is contemplating retirement. Costello has been the most vocal opponent of the new map among the state’s Republican congressmen, even calling for the state Supreme Court justices to be impeached over their redistricting ruling.
His 6th District, the only seat in the state to keep its number, contains 50 percent of Costello’s former constituency and reports a 10-point Hillary Clinton margin, though looking at the district from a total political perspective suggests the new constituency leans Democratic by only two percentage points. Additionally, the new 6th now contains all of Chester County (71 percent of the entire CD), where Costello previously ran and successfully won an at-large County Commission seat.
Though Rep. Costello is circulating petitions, he apparently has not fully decided to seek re-election. Should he not file, Republican leaders would be left with no time to find a replacement candidate and could be forced to forfeit the seat without a fight if no other qualifying operation is currently happening behind the scenes.
The entire Pennsylvania congressional situation will become clear once the Tuesday candidate filing deadline passes and the various courts issue rulings on the challenges before them. The legal decisions will have to come soon since the state’s May 15th primary is already fast approaching.