No shortage of fall races for Pennsylvania voters to ponder
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Midterm elections under a revamped congressional district map are certain to help transform Pennsylvania’s delegation to Congress this fall. The governor and a U.S. senator, both Democrats, will learn in three months whether voters think they deserve another term. And the status of Republican majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, large margins by historical measures, hangs in the balance.
Pennsylvania voters will have much to sort out in the general election, with advertising and campaign events certain to ramp up once they return from the beach, family reunions and Labor Day picnicking.
The state’s partisan division has made it a perennial electoral battleground, and the run-up to the Nov. 6 general election will undoubtedly bring a blanket of television ads, a forest of yard signs and an army of candidates aiming to persuade the state’s inscrutable independents and finicky undecideds.
Here’s a look at what the fall campaign season will hold for voters in the Keystone State:
The state Supreme Court’s decision to throw out the congressional map Republicans drew in 2011 and replace it with district lines approved by the court’s Democratic majority has fueled close contests to fill Pennsylvania’s 18 seats in Congress. Under the 2011 map, Republicans won 13 seats in three straight elections, even as Democrats dominated in statewide elections.
This will be the first election under the new map, considered less favorable to Republicans, but still could produce a Republican majority.
Even without changes to district boundaries, this is a remarkable election because the seven vacant seats represent Pennsylvania’s largest such number in decades.
Two first-time Democratic candidates are favored to flip Republican-held seats in suburban Philadelphia: Mary Gay Scanlon in a seat formerly held by Republican Patrick Meehan, who resigned in April amid an ethics scandal; and Chrissy Houlahan in a seat currently held by Republican Rep. Ryan Costello, who is not seeking re-election.
Meanwhile, three other contests are being fought in closely divided districts: Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb and Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus for a suburban Pittsburgh seat; Republican Marty Nothstein and Democrat Susan Wild for an Allentown-area seat; and Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick and Democrat Scott Wallace for a suburban Philadelphia seat.
Four years ago, Tom Wolf was coming off winning a largely self-financed Democratic primary and was a few months away from unseating first-term Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.
These days Wolf is touting his record as a freshman governor and hoping to fend off an aggressive challenge from Republican Scott Wagner, who owns a waste-hauling business and resigned his state Senate seat after winning May’s three-way GOP gubernatorial primary.
Wolf’s approval ratings are in decent shape, but in Wagner he faces a tenacious opponent who got himself elected to the Senate by doing what many thought was impossible: organizing a write-in campaign to wrest the nomination away from the party’s endorsed candidate.
The two men have not agreed to a debate schedule.
Whether Wolf or Wagner wins, the state will get a new lieutenant governor. Braddock Mayor John Fetterman upset Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Stack in the Democratic primary. Wagner’s running mate is Jeff Bartos.
Four-term U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, a former Hazleton mayor, is challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a former state treasurer and auditor general.
Casey, the son of the late former Gov. Robert P. Casey, has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump, while Barletta is among the president’s most reliable defenders.
Casey is seeking a third term.
Barletta has badly lagged Casey in fundraising, and no independent poll puts him within striking distance. The race has hardly drawn any national attention, while the parties battling for U.S. Senate control in November’s election are focused on races in at least 10 other states.
Trump was in northeastern Pennsylvania a few days ago to campaign for Barletta.
Republicans hold commanding margins in both chambers — 121-82 in the House and 34-16 in the Senate. Democratic strategists say flipping either chamber isn’t realistic, but they are hoping for gains, and a large number of Republican vacancies has given them an opening.
In the House, Democrats have candidates in 20 of the 21 open Republican seats, while the GOP has challengers in just 5 of the 12 Democratic openings.
All five Senate vacancies are Republicans: Sens. John Eichelberger, Chuck McIlhinney, Stewart Greenleaf, Randy Vulakovich and Wagner.
The House passed a bill that would shrink itself from 203 members to 151, and cut the Senate from 50 to 38 members, before the senators stripped out the part that applied to them and sent it back. It’s currently pending in the House, but it will not be on the fall ballot. If it passes by the end of November, which is far from certain, a referendum will be scheduled for the spring primary.
Supporters had said it could make the Legislature easier to manage, and some saw an opportunity for modest cost savings. Skeptics doubted there would be majority support, when push came to shove, to vote to cut their own ranks.
A proposed constitutional amendment to revamp how the state draws legislative and congressional boundaries gained some momentum this year after the court battle produced a new congressional map.
Senate Republicans, with two Democratic votes, passed a plan to have district lines drawn by a commission. The panel would consist of members chosen by legislative leaders and the governor.
The Senate-passed proposal also would drastically change the election of statewide appeals court judges, having them run in districts.
That bill is currently pending in the state House, where more than 600 amendments have been filed. It appears to be stalled.
Constitutional amendment advertising rules mean it’s probably already too late to have any new system in place to redraw lines as a result of the 2020 census.
Mark Scolforo covers state government for The Associated Press in Harrisburg. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter: @houseofbuddy.