State House Previews: Pennsylvania
The Commonwealth has undergone seismic changes this century. Will 2018 roll them back or speed them up?
(Part Two in a series. Part One covered Ohio)
For most of the twentieth century, Democratic strength in Pennsylvania was concentrated in Philadelphia County, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and Western Pennsylvania, not only in Pittsburgh but Johnstown, Washington, Sharon, and Erie. Meanwhile, Republican strength was concentrated in the Lehigh Valley (Allentown and Bethlehem) and the populous, affluent suburban counties of Philadelphia — Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery. Yet, the presidential elections of this century have heralded a realignment, with the eastern part of the state trending increasingly Democratic, and with Pittsburgh becoming the sole speck of blue in the western part of the state. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre remained Democratic until 2016, due in large part to the personal popularity of Fmr. Pres. Obama and Fmr. Vice Pres. Joseph R. Biden, Jr. Yet, even that ancestrally Democratic area swung hard toward Pres. Donald J. Trump in 2016. Will those trends continue this year? Or was 2016 a partial aberration? The uncertainty is why Pennsylvania has an unusually high number of competitive seats in the House of Representatives and Senate.
The Republicans hold a 121–82 advantage in the House and a 34–16 advantage in the Senate, meaning the Democrats need to flip a net of twenty seats to control the House for the first time since 2010, and ten seats to control the Senate for the first time since 1994. While all 203 House seats are up for election, only half (even-numbered) of the 50 Senate seats are. In sum, it is a tall task for the Democrats, but as evidenced below, certainly feasible.
Pennsylvania House of Representatives (Need 20 seats for majority)
- 49th Dist.: First-termer Bud Cook (R) won the open seat with 54% of the vote, as the district swung from +1 Obama to +21 Trump. However, the district, just south of Pittsburgh, is nominally heavily Democratic, and a Democrat had won easily in 2012 and 2014 before deciding not to run. Rep. Cook will face either his 2016 opponent Alan Benyak (D) or Steven Toprani (D), who was elected Washington County District Attorney as a Republican before switching parties.
- 51st Dist.: Tim Mahoney (D) lost by 6% to Matthew Dowling (R) in 2016 after winning his rural Southwestern Pennsylvania district by more than 25% in 2014. This district had been trending away from the Democrats for quite some time, swinging from +16 Romney to +37 Trump. However, it overlaps with parts of the state’s 18th Congressional district, where Conor Lamb (D) is polling well above the normal partisan lean for the special election. Mr. Mahoney is running again, and if Mr. Lamb wins, or comes close, in the special election at the end of March, this becomes a real pickup possibility.
- 53d Dist. (Open): 18-term incumbent Robert Godshall (R) is retiring, and his district is a portion of Montgomery County (suburban Philadelphia) that swung slightly from +1 Romney to +2 Clinton. Rep. Godshall’s 2016 opponent, Leon Angelichio (D) is running again, and will have the advantage over chiropractor George Szekely, II (R).
- 61st Dist.: Moderate, environmentally-minded Kate Harper (R) has served central Montgomery County since 2000, and was re-elected with 57% of the vote in 2016, even as her district swung from +4 Obama to +17 Clinton. Rep. Harper may have caught a break, as her general election opponent is Laura Hanbidge (D), an attorney who has never run for public office.
- 74th Dist. (Open): Harry Lewis, Jr. (R) has decided to retire, which is probably a good decision: his margin of victory went from 7.5% in 2014 to 2% in 2016 in this +25 Clinton district. Moreover, the district is centered in affluent Chester County (suburban Philadelphia), which will be hit particularly hard by the cap on state and local tax deductions. Rep. Lewis’s staffer, Amber Little-Turner (R) will likely face Joshua Maxwell (D), Downington Mayor and Rep. Lewis’s 2016 opponent.
- 104th Dist.: Portions of Harrisburg and its suburbs, swung from +5 Romney to +10.5 Trump. Susan Helm (R) has held the seat for awhile, but won with “only” 55% of the vote in 2012 and is 74. Susquehanna Township Commissioner Jody Rebarchak (D), who lost 57–43 to Rep. Helm in 2016, opted not to run, and Rep. Helm will face Patricia Smith (D), who has no prior electoral experience.
- 106th Dist.: District encompassing Hershey and suburban Harrisburg which swung from +11 Romney to +8 Trump. John Mehaffie (R) ran unopposed in his first election in 2016, and has caught a break this time around, with his general election either being Jill Linta (D) or Robert Myers, III (D), who I learned, via Google, has the misfortune of sharing the same name and generational suffix with a registered sex offender in Florida.
- 131st Dist.: Erstwhile rising star Justin Simmons (R) won his fourth term by 35%, even as this suburban Lehigh Valley district barely moved (+10 Romney to +12 Trump). Yet, little has gone right for Rep. Simmons since then. He entered the race for retiring U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent’s (R) seat, only to withdraw in November 2017 after the Allentown Morning Call published an expose on his lackluster attendance record. Rep. Simmons has fielded a strong primary challenger in Marine Corps veteran Bev Plosa-Blowser, who has received the endorsement of the Montgomery County Republican Party. Tavern owner Andy Lee (D) will face the winner in the general election.
- 143d Dist. (Open): Exurban Bucks County district that swung from +8 Romney to +1 Trump. Rep. Marguerrite Quinn (R) is giving up the seat to run for the State Senate. The Democratic primary will pit attorney Tim Brennan against retired teacher Wendy Ullman, with the winner facing Joseph Flood (R) in the general election. Given the open seat and the pro-Democratic environment, this is a once-in-a-decade pickup opportunity.
- 146th Dist.: Suburban Philadelphia district that was virtually unchanged from 2012 (+3 Obama to +1 Clinton). Two-term incumbent Thomas Quigley (R) beat Joseph Ciresi (D) by less than 2.5% in 2016; Mr. Ciresi is running again.
- 150th Dist.: Another suburban Philadelphia district (n.b. this is going to become a trend), this one north of Norristown and King of Prussia. Michael Corr (R) won his first term with just 54% of the vote, as the district swung from +0.5 Obama to +7.5 Clinton. Rep. Corr will likely face small businessman Steven Burda (D), who lost in the Democratic primary in 2016.
- 151st Dist.: This district, just north of Interstate 276 in Montgomery County, swung from +2.5 Obama to +14 Clinton. Todd Stephens (R) has never faced serious opposition since his first election in 2010, but he Democrats have fielded a strong candidate in former Assistant District Attorney Sara Johnson Rothman.
- 152d Dist.: Another Montgomery County district, which swung from +6 Obama to +13 Clinton. However, six-term incumbent Thomas Murt (R) won with 60% of the vote, a percentage that has been virtually unchanged since his second election in 2008. Rep. Murt is running again, and it is unlikely that political novice Daryl Boling (D) can pick up this seat even in a strong Democratic year.
- 155th Dist.: Way out on the Main Line in Chester County, Becky Corbin (R) won with 58% of the vote in 2016,even as the district swung from +4 Romney to +7 Clinton. She intends to run again, while her opponent of from 2014 and 2016, Jim Burns (D) has passed, leaving businesswoman and environmental activist Danielle Otten and attorney Ronald Graham to battle for the Democratic nomination. Unseating Rep. Corbin is a longshot, but if the Democrats even come close, then they will be having a very good night.
- 157th Dist.: A Chester County district that swung from from +6 Obama to +20 Clinton. Warren Kampf (R) won his fourth term with almost 59% of the vote, but won with less than 52% in the last Democratic year of 2012. He will be facing business owner Melissa Schusterman (D) in the general election. Notably, Rep. Kampf has introduced seven gun control bills in the wake of the Parkland, FL shooting, which may cause a loss of support on the right.
- 158th Dist.: Eric Roe (R) won his first term in this Delaware County district with only 53% of the vote over perennial candidate Susan Rzucidlo, as the district swung from +2 Romney to +7 Clinton. He faces longtime state legislative aide Christina Sappey (D) in the general election, making this a prime pickup opportunity.
- 160th Dist.: Stephen Barrar (R) has served this portion of Southeastern Delaware County since 1997, and was unopposed in this Delaware County seat in 2016, even as the district swung from +6 Romney to +2 Clinton. Rep. Barrar will not be so lucky this time around, as either attorney Anton Andrew or environmental activist Cathy Spahr will be his Democratic opponent in the general election.
- 163rd Dist.: Jamie Santora (R) has done well in this Delaware County district, but has never run in a strong Democratic year. This district was +12 Obama and +13 Clinton, and Rep. Santora has tacked to the center, introducing gun control legislation. His 2016 opponent, Barbarann Keffer (D), has passed on running in favor of attorney Michael Zabel (D).
- 165th Dist.: First-termer Alexander Charlton (R) won this district even as it swung from +2 Romney to +7 Clinton, but his 13% margin was much smaller than those of his longtime predecessor, William Adolph, Jr. (R). Rep. Charlton’s vote against a 20-week abortion ban has given him a primary challenge from the right in retired teacher Regina Scheerer. The winner will face Jennifer O’Mara (D), who has the backing of Turn PA Blue. Ms. O’Mara would be the favorite against Ms. Scheerer and only a slight underdog against Rep. Charlton.
- 167th Dist.: Duane Milne (R) has served this Chester County district since 2007, and while he defeated physician Joe Denham (D) by 13% in 2016, that was his lowest margin of victory since 2008, as the district swung from +2 Romney to +15 Clinton. He will face either local activist Kristine Howard (D), who has the backing of Main Line progressives, or thirty-six-year old Jeff McFall (D), who is running on a Social Democratic platform.
- 168th Dist.: Chris Quinn (R) won his first full term in the Delaware County district by almost 14%, even as it swung from +3 Romney to +7 Clinton. Quinn’s 2016 opponent, philanthropist Diane Levy (D), has decided not to run, and Rep. Quinn will face either Chester Heights Councilman Philip Block (D) or Red Tree-Media School Board Director Kristin Seale (D), the latter of whom is running well to Councilman Block’s left. Rep. Quinn’s vote in favor of SB3, which sought to criminalize abortion after 20 weeks with no exception for rape or incest, means the Democrats will be working hard to unseat him.
- 170th Dist.: In 2016, now-29-year old Martina White (R) won her first full term in this overwhelmingly white Northeast Philadelphia district, which swung from +16 Obama to +1 Clinton. While Rep. White is seeking another term, she does so running against the staunch partisan lean of the district and city — she is the only Republican to be newly elected within city limits in more than 20 years — and she has angered constituents with her perceived inadequate response to an officer killing last year. Her opponent is progressive activist Mike Doyle, Jr. (D), no relation to the Pittsburgh congressman.
- 177th Dist. (Open): John Taylor (R) has represented this north Philadelphia district since 1985, but at the age of 72, is calling it quits. Patti Kozlowski (R), who has never run for office before, will face whoever emerges from a six-person Democratic primary. The district swung from +32 Obama to +17 Clinton, so this should be an easy pickup for the Democrats. If the Republicans hold, however, it virtually assures them of retaining control of the House.
- 178th Dist. (Open): Scott Petri (R) had represented this Bucks County district since 2003, rarely facing serious opposition, even as the district swung from +14 Romney to +2 Trump. Rep. Petri resigned to become head of the Pennsylvania Parking Authority. Bucks County Controller Neale Dougherty (D), Rep. Petri’s 2016 opponent, is running in the special election set for May 15, 2018, but the general election will be Solesbury Township Board of Directors Chair and businesswoman Helen Tai (D) against Council Rock Board of Directors member Wendy Thomas (R), best known for running in both the Democratic and Republican primaries for her Board seat in 2015.
- 183rd Dist.: The Democrats have rarely contested this Allentown-area seat, despite the party’s natural advantages in the region. Zachary Mako (R) won his first term in 2016, defeating Phillips Armstrong (D) by 16%, as the district swung from +6 Romney to +21 Trump. Mr. Armstrong is not running again, and this will be a tough seat to flip under the best of circumstances. But Rep. Mako won his 2016 primary by only 172 votes over Cynthia Miller (R), who is again challenging Rep. Mako in a primary, while Slaton Borough Councilman Jason Ruff (D) is not facing a primary. If the Democrats can come close, they are in for a very good night across the Commonwealth.
Pennsylvania Senate (Need 10 seats for majority)
- 6th Dist: Centered in Bucks County, which, for the second straight Presidential election, ran slightly more Republican than the country, although Pres. Obama and Ms. Clinton carried the district both times. Incumbent Robert Tomlinson (R) is running for re-election, but the Democrats have recruited a top flight opponent in State Rep. Tina Davis.
- 10th Dist. (Open): Charles McIlhenney (R) is retiring from this Bucks County seat, which swung from +1.5 Romney to +4 Clinton. Steve Sanatrasiero (D), who got 45.6% of the vote in his unsuccessful bid to flip Pennsylvania’s 8th Congressional district in 2016, is the slight favorite over State Rep. Marguerrite Quinn (R).
- 12th Dist. (Open): Montgomery County, which has been trending ever more Democratic for the last 30 years, swinging from even in 2012 to +5 Clinton. Incumbent Stewart Greenleaf, Sr. (R) is retiring, but his son Stewart, Jr., is seeking the seat, facing attorney Maria Collett (D) in the general election.
- 16th Dist.: Allentown and its suburbs, where the Democrats having a 47–36 registration advantage, and with popular, moderate incumbent Pat Browne (R) running for re-election despite a 2015 conviction for driving under the influence. Even in a Democratic year, Sen. Browne will be the favorite over progressive activist Mark Pinsley.
- 24th Dist.: This district in the northwest edge of Metropolitan Philadelphia swung from +5 Romney to +8.5 Trump. Bob Mensch (R) has never faced serious opposition since taking the seat in 2009, but he’ll be 75 the fall and is facing a strong general election candidate in veteran labor organizer Linda Fields (D). A longshot, but the Democrats have at least put themselves in a good position.
- 26th Dist.: Thomas McGarrigle (R) won his first term by less than 5% in a Republican wave year. His Montgomery County district went from +12 Obama to +14 Clinton, i.e., from 8% more Democratic than the rest of the state to 15% more Democratic. Probably the most vulnerable incumbent, Sen.. McGarrigle’s opponent will be either Asst. District Attorney Tanner Rouse (D) or, more likely, Swarthmore Mayor Tim Kearney (D).
- 34th Dist.: While Jake Corman (R) was unopposed in 2014 and won easily in 2010, Centre County (Penn State) is one of the few places in Pennsyltucky that trended toward Clinton, and Pres. Trump did slightly worse in the district than did Romney. The Democrats have at least fielded a candidate this time around in AccuWeather employee Ezra Nanes. Sen. Corman’s decision to wade into the redistricting fight — calling it a “constitutional crisis” — means this race may get outsized attention from both parties and their affiliated groups.
- 38th Dist.: Randy Vulakovich (R) was unopposed in winning his first term, but district — Pittsburgh’s East End and northern suburbs — swung from +6 Romney to even. Labor attorney Lindsey Williams (D) is the favorite to face Sen. Vulakovich in what will be a bitterly contested general election.
- 44th Dist.: John Rafferty (R) has rarely, if ever, faced a serious challenge in his suburban Philadelphia district, even as it has gradually become more Democratic, swinging from +4 Romney to even. Sen. Rafferty is seeking re-election, making this a longshot to pick up, but the Democrats have fielded a decent candidate in community organizer and kinesiologist Katie Muth.
- 46th Dist.: District swung from +8 Romney to +20 Trump, but Camera Bartolotta (R) is only in her first term in this ancestrally Democratic area. Much of this Southwestern Pennsylvania district falls within Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional district, which has been the subject of a heated special election campaign. Thus, Democrats in the area are much more mobilized than two years ago, and if Conor Lamb (D) can win the special election, it will show that OOT voters may be coming back to the fold. Democrats have recruited a strong candidate in attorney and Air Force veteran James Craig.
- 9th Dist.: District in far Western Pennsylvania, north of Pittsburgh and south of Erie, which swung from +4 Obama to +23.5 Trump. Chris Sainato (D) is seeking his thirteenth term, and will face Gregory Michalek (R), who narrowly lost the GOP primary for this seat in 2014 to a Gary Cangey (R). Mr. Cangey lost by 33% to Rep. Sainato in a much better Republican year, so this should be a relatively easy hold for the Democrats.
- 31st Dist.: An historically Republican portion of northern Bucks County that straddles the border with Trenton, New Jersey, Perry Warren (D) won his first term in 2016 by a whopping 75 votes over Ryan Gallagher (R), as the district swung from +3 Obama to +14 Clinton. Rep. Warren is seeking re-election, and Mr. Gallagher is once again his opponent. Even in a strong Democratic year, this will be a close race, and should give a good indication of how Democratic the eastern part of the state has become.
- 48th Dist. (Open): Brandon Neuman (D) won his fourth term unopposed in 2016 in this Washington County (Southwestern Pennsylvania) district, even as it swung from +8 Romney to +15 Trump. However, Rep. Neuman resigned in November 2017 after winning a judgeship. A special election is set for May 15, 2018, the same day as the primaries, with Army veteran Tim O’Neal (R) facing attorney Clark Mitchell, Jr. (D).
- 50th Dist.: Blue Dog Pam Snyder (D) won her third term by 6% in this Greene County (southwest corner of the state), even as the district swung from +6 Romney to +30 Trump. However, that margin paled in comparison to her 23% margin in 2012, her last contested election. Rep. Snyder is running for re-election, but even strong a Democratic year and support from OOT voters may not be enough to keep this seat in the blue column.
- 71st Dist.: In 2016, Bryan Barbin (D) won his fifth term easily in this district encompassing East Johnstown and suburban areas, even after a 52–48 scare in 2014 and with the district swinging from +13 Romney to +27.5 Trump. Rep. Barbin is likely to face Geistown Borough President Matt Sernell (R) in the general election, and will enter as the clear favorite.
- 72d Dist.: Five-time incumbent Frank Burns (D) faced down the toughest re-election challenge of his career in this rural Western Pennsylvania district, defeating Ebensburg City Councilwoman Cecilia Houser (R) by only 15%, compared to 25% in 2014. Rep. Burns is running again, and caught a break when Councilwoman Houser opted not to run.
- 76th Dist. (Open): Michael Hanna, Sr. (D) won his 14th term by less than 5% in 2016, after rarely facing opposition in prior years, as this rural district north of State College and west of Williamsport swung from +33 Romney to +52 Trump. Rep. Hanna has decided not to seek re-election, but Mike, Jr. (D) has already announced his candidacy, as has Rep. Hanna’s 2016 opponent, Stephanie Borowicz (R). Even in a Democratic year, and even with some voters probably not realizing it’s Rep. Hanna’s son on the ballot, I would be surprised if Ms. Borowicz does not prevail.
- 121st Dist.: For the first time, Eddie Day Pashinski (D) will face a Republican opponent in a re-election bid in twenty-six year old Gregory Wolovich, Jr. (R), treasurer of the Luzerne County Republican Party. Mr. Wolovich may be buoyed by the Wilkes-Barre centered district swinging from +24 Obama to +1 Trump, but Rep. Pashinski is likely to prevail.
- 22d Dist.: This district encompasses Scranton and its suburbs, and like the 14th, suffered without Fmr. Vice Pres. Biden’s coattails, swinging from +27 Obama to +4 Clinton. Two-term incumbent John Blake (D) is seeking re-election, facing business owner Frank Scavo III (R). Sen. Blake should be okay unless things turn south for the party.