Pennsylvania’s Midterm Election

Now that Pennsylvania’s primary season is over, the general election campaign is underway. Following the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s extraconstitutional rewrite of the congressional map, Pennsylvania’s new districts are problematic for the Republicans, who currently constitute the majority of the delegation. At the top of the ticket, both U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-Lackawanna) and Governor Tom Wolf (D-York) are seeking re-election.

The U.S. Senate currently has 51 Republicans and 47 Democrats with two Independents who caucus with the Democrats, which gives the Republicans the narrowest simple majority. In this election cycle, the Democrats must defend 26 incumbents including Senator Casey and both Democrat-caucusing Independents. Only nine seats currently held by Republicans are up for election this year. Whereas three or fewer of the Republican seats are considered competitive, the Democrats are defending incumbents in ten states that Donald Trump won in 2016. Over the last 25 years, the party holding the White House has lost an average of four seats. The GOP has unified control of the political branches in Washington, with majorities in the U.S. House and Senate plus the White House.

Leading the November ballot will be the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Senator Bob Casey and Congressman Lou Barletta (R-Luzerne). According to a recent Suffolk University Poll, Casey leads Barletta 47%-32%, a 15-point margin. Casey has very high name recognition and national analysts have rated the Pennsylvania race as “Leans Democrat”. However, the millennial generation now constitutes the largest age demographic of voters, few of whom would know of or remember Senator Casey’s namesake father, the former governor. Among younger voters Barletta may be familiar from being one of the first congressmen to endorse Donald Trump, who won Pennsylvania with approximately 49% of the vote. The confirmation battle over Judge Brett Kavanaugh to succeed Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy will bring more focus to the Casey/Barletta race. Many Pennsylvania Republicans voted for Trump in 2016 based on his judicial appointments and we could see this dynamic re-energized by the Kavanaugh confirmation vote. 

Judge Kavanaugh is a federal appeals court judge, former senior staffer to President George W. Bush, and onetime aide to Solicitor General and Special Counsel Ken Starr. His nomination wasn’t a surprise given his inclusion on Trump’s list of potential justices. For Republicans, this is good news because President Trump will have nominated two justices in his first two years of office: with Justice Gorsuch fulfilling a prominent campaign promise in the 2016 election and now Judge Kavanaugh. Even before President Trump nominated a new Justice, Senator Casey on twitter wrote, “I will oppose the nomination the President will make tonight because it represents a corrupt bargain with the far Right, big corporations, and Washington special interests”.

The race for governor pits two York county nominees, incumbent Tom Wolf and businessman and former state Senator Scott Wagner. With an approval rating of 45% according to the Morning Consult, Wolf leads Wagner 49% to 36%.  Like the U.S. Senate race, national experts say the contest for governor “Leans Democrat,” although Pennsylvania is the only place where an incumbent Democrat governor is running in a state Trump won. National money from both political parties, both governors’ associations, and outside interest groups will flood the airwaves in the months leading up to the election. Governor Wolf was able to conserve campaign resources while Scott Wagner endured an expensive and divisive GOP primary.

In the race for Lieutenant Governor, Braddock Mayor John Fetterman ousted incumbent Lt. Gov. Mike Stack (D-Philadelphia) in the Democrats’ primary, while Montgomery County businessman and attorney Jeff Bartos won the GOP nod. Fetterman was endorsed by Socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and other far-left organizations.

The 435-member U.S. House of Representatives currently has 235 Republicans and 193 Democrats with seven vacancies (five most recently held by Republicans and two by Democrats). Over the last quarter-century, the average net loss for the party holding the White House is 26 seats. Democrats would need a net gain of 23 seats in 2018 to win control of the House. Pennsylvania has three of the “top 25 House Races to watch”: the Bucks County-based PA 1, held by Brian Fitzpatrick; the open Lehigh Valley-based PA 7, formerly represented by Charlie Dent; and PA 17 in Allegheny and Beaver counties, which pits newly-minted special election winner U.S. Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Allegheny) against U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-Allegheny) and the only battle between two incumbents in the nation. Two additional PA races are considered competitive: Scranton-based PA 8 held by U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Lackawanna) and Harrisburg-centered PA 10 held by U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R-York).

The 1st Congressional district of Pennsylvania is considered a toss-up between Brian Fitzpatrick and Scott Wallace. The district is rated as a lean-Republican district of a PVI (measures how each district performs at the presidential level compared to the nation as a whole) score of R+1. Currently, incumbent Fitzpatrick has a single digit lead of 49% to Wallace’s 42%.  Luckily for Fitzpatrick, his favorability within the district is 53%; unfavorable is 22% and 25% express no opinion. Wallace on the other hand has a favorability rating of 32% and an unfavorable rating of 15% with 53% having no opinion. Working against Fitzpatrick is the heavy suburbs of Philadelphia that in 2016 pushed Clinton ahead with 2% points. Congressman Fitzpatrick however, is identified, by the Lugar Center at Georgetown University, as the number one most bipartisan freshman Congressman in the nation, which suits this Bucks county community well. Fitzpatrick has won many allies “across the aisle” which goes to show that he is the most bipartisan freshman Congressman in the nation according to the Lugar Center. He picked up the endorsement of former Democratic Representative Gabby Gifford’s for his support in additional gun safety measures and picked up the most shocking endorsement from the largest labor union in Pennsylvania, The Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, over Democrat Scott Wallace. The union endorsement makes Fitzpatrick the only Republican in Congress with a union endorsement while making Wallace the only Democrat without a union endorsement.

Turning to the 7th Congressional District seat of Lehigh, Northampton and parts of Monroe County, this seat changed from a lean-Republican to a lean-Democrat seat. The contenders of the old Charlie Dent seat are Olympic cyclist Marty Nothstein and former Allentown City Solicitor Susan Wild. Nothstein is considered an underdog in this D+1 district that is upset with the President’s performance, according to polls. Candidate Susan Wild is one of many women that the Democrats are banking on to help recapture the House of Representatives. This surge in female candidates within the Democratic Party is due to the lost 2016 presidential election. Democrats have positioned most of these female candidates in many of the suburban white-collar districts and highly vulnerable Republican suburban seats throughout the nation. This tactic is to ultimately, win the House and connect with the blue-collar women who helped President Trump get elected.

 Incumbent Matt Cartwright is running against Republican challenger John Chrin in the Trump 8th Congressional district that saw a 10% win over Clinton in 2016. In a normal year, this district would be a top target for the GOP due to the President’s popularity, but due to midterms usually being a counter to the current administration, the district is being considered a likely Democratic district. Both candidates Marty Nothstein (PA-7) and John Chrin (PA-8) are part of the “Young Guns” program co-founded by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, which aims to give funding and campaign resources to new candidates whom the Republican Party leadership views as competitive and viable in their bids for Congress. The program provides infrastructure support, campaign messaging and monetary resources. Both Marty Nothstein (PA-7) and John Chrin (PA-8) have been recently welcomed into the program. This shows that the GOP are trying to keep Pennsylvania districts red because it will help them secure the seats needed to retain their majority come November.

The Pennsylvania 10th Congressional District is looking to be a hot race between Freedom Caucus incumbent Congressman Scott Perry and Democratic Challenger George Scott. George Scott is a Lutheran minister and veteran who is challenging three term Congressman Scott Perry from York County. A Public Policy poll shows Scott Perry in the lead by a narrow margin with 45 points to George Scott’s 41 points. 14 % of the voters in the 10th Congressional district are undecided. The poll also revealed that Perry has a 33% favorability rating with 36% being unfavorable and 31% not sure. Scott on the other hand has a favorability rating of 20%, an unfavorable rating of 17% and 62% of voters are unsure.  Numbers like this show that Scott’s name ID is incredibly low. The 10th district shifted since the Supreme Court ruling on redistricting from Trump+22 to Trump+9.  Scott is still however going to have a tough challenge against Perry who in 2016 won reelection by 32 points. The new 10th district does have an advantage for George Scott, and that is Dauphin County. While Scott’s name ID is low, more than 50% of this district is new territory for Congressman Perry. All of Dauphin County is in the 10th district, which went to Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. But Perry still has parts of the heavily Republican counties of Cumberland and York.

The 17th Congressional District in Pennsylvania is the only race in the country featuring two incumbents. Current Republican incumbent Keith Rothfus and newly elected Democrat incumbent Conor Lamb are squaring off in the newly drawn Pennsylvania 17th district, based outside of Pittsburgh. Conor Lamb won an election against Republican State Representative Rick Saccone in a special election to replace embattled seven term Congressman Tim Murphy who resigned in October of 2017. The old district 18 had an R+11 lean according to the Cook Political Report. Lamb, a 33-year-old Marine and former assistant US attorney ran on a platform that was more independent than Democrats. He ran on supporting the 2nd Amendment and said that he personally did not believe in abortions but supports Roe v. Wade. Along with this, he said during his campaign that he would not vote for Nancy Pelosi as House Democratic leader. These areas of his campaign could help Lamb secure some independents along with some Republican votes if he stays the course of his special election campaign. Lamb will be facing a veteran force in Keith Rothfus. Congressman Rothfus, who was Congressman for Pennsylvania’s 12th district, is now running in a district that is far less Republican than his previous district. The Cook Political Report ranks the Pennsylvania 17th Congressional District R+3 which is different from the R+11 12th Congressional District. Luckily for Rothfus, he has the endorsement of Vice-President Mike Pence who already came to the district to endorse Rothfus. Ultimately, this relationship allows many blue-collar Trump supporters to “get on board” with Rothfus allowing him to gain support and possibly oust the young Lamb. This district will have a national spotlight and will be an exceedingly expensive campaign on both sides.

Pennsylvania will play a pivotal role in the 2018 election, setting the direction for the commonwealth and the nation. The results will determine the balance of power in Congress for the next two years and who will set the agenda in Harrisburg for the next four years. Will the forecasted “blue wave” sweep Pennsylvania? Or can the PA GOP build on its first Presidential victory since 1988?  The Business Industry Political Action Committee (BIPAC) and the Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association (PMA) will be here to keep you informed as the 2018 campaign marches on.