Around the U.S. in 50 Days: Pennsylvania

In 2012, the Republican Party seems to have learned its lesson from some bad redistricting moves they made a decade earlier. Then, they targeted Tim Holden and the Philadelphia suburbs in a plan that backfired. However, with a current 12-7 advantage in the congressional delegation, the goal this year was to strengthen their existing seats and basically concede Holden’s seat.

For President, it seems that every four years, Pennsylvania is listed as a key swing state. Yet, every four years they vote for the Democrat, each time a little more strongly. That is because the majority of the population lies in the southeastern and southwester corners of the state around the metropolitan hubs of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Obama won the state in 2008 by nine points. He managed to carry 18 counties including the entire eastern portion of the state. He did so by winning Carbon and Monroe counties , thus claiming a swath of territory from the Delaware border all the way north into the Pocono region and Lackawanna County. But there is a catch- all of those non-Philadelphia counties he won in 2008 (six in total) except one lost population over the decade or showed no growth at all.

Things have certainly changed in Pennsylvania since 2008. In 2010, in an exciting Senate race, conservative Pat Toomey defeated liberal Joe Sestak. That was clearly a repudiation of Obama and his policies. There is also a Republican Governor in Harrisburg and a Republican-controlled legislature. And they made tremendous gains in the House elections also. All this should add up to problems for Obama in 2012 and he will surely be spending time in the state to defend its 20 electoral votes. To do so, due to declining population in the southwestern parts of the state that supported him last year, he will have to increase turnout and rely more on Philadelphia and its non-minority suburban areas. That will be a tough haul, although one should not count out the Philadelphia Democratic machine that has tentacles into the suburbs. Regardless, there is no way Obama will win by nine points this year with approval ratings hovering somewhere near 44%. It will be a close race, but if enough of the conservative areas show increased turnout, especially in the central part of the state, Romney could win this seat. At this point, based solely upon approval ratings, I would call Pennsylvania for Romney.

In 2006, incumbent Senator Bob Casey, a Democrat, defeated then incumbent Republican Rick Santorum in a landslide 17-point victory. He is up for reelection this year. Sensing a rerun of 2010, ten Republicans are lining up to take on Casey this year. In polling of likely GOP primary voters, only two candidates break 10%- former state representative Sam Rohrer and Tim Burns, who lost the 2010 12th District House race. His performance in that race gives Republicans a chance and, in fact, in hypothetical general election match ups, Burns polls the closest to Casey- a 15 point deficit. And although the race will be interesting, Casey should prevail.

Instead of showing greed in redistricting, this time around the GOP decided to shore up incumbent Republicans. First, the easy districts. Democrats Bob Brady and Chaka Fatah will win their Philadelphia-based districts. Likewise, Allyson Schwartz who, although she loses parts of northeast Philadelphia to Bob Brady’s 1st, picks up Democratic areas of Montgomery County. And Mike Doyle in the 14th- which covers Pittsburgh proper- should win.

On the Republican side, Todd Platts is retiring from the 4th (basically the former 19th) leaving Eric Maloney the heir apparent. The 5th is safely Glenn Thompson’s while in the 6th, Jim Gerlach lost the middle of Montgomery County, but gains the rural sections of Chester and Bucks counties. He will likely face Mark Trivedi in a rematch of 2010. The 8th- basically Bucks County- should go to Mark Fitzpatrick while Bill Shuster will win the 9th. In the 16th District, Joe Pitts appears safe although he lost some conservative areas while picking up a little bit of blue territory in the Reading area. Finally, Tim Murphy in the 18th, Pittsburgh’s southern suburbs, will win as well.

Tim Holden, a Democrat representing a Republican district, was a target in 2002 although not this time around. While shoring up GOP incumbents elsewhere, Holden’s hold on this district was strengthened by giving his district the Scranton area. The 12th District showed the greatest change mainly due to decreased population in this part of the state. Mark Critz and Jason Altmire- two Democratic incumbents- will face off in a primary battle with an edge to Altmire. Normally,this would intimate a Democratic hold. However, the GOP has some strong candidates themselves in Keith Rothfus. Recently, house majority leader Mike Turzai decided to enter the race. Because of redistricting, Jim Christiana of Beaver City, an up and coming player in the Pennsylvania GOP, may run since he was drawn into the district. Given that either Altmire or Critz will emerge from a primary weakened and the quality of GOP opposition plus redistricting, look for a GOP seat gain here.

By picking up Butler and Armstrong counties, Republican Mike Kelly’s bid against Missa Eaton should be a GOP retention. The strange looking 7th District will feature Pat Meehan against 2010 Senate loser Joe Sestak. However, it looks as if Sestak will go down to his second election defeat in two years as the district does not look favorable to Sestak. By redistricting the Scranton area away from Tom Marino’s 10th District, he too should win reelection. And the same goes for Lou Barletta in the 11th. Because Scranton was placed in Holden’s district, one would have to say that Barletta is breathing a little easier, although he remains marginally vulnerable.

Perhaps the hardest seat for the GOP to retain in 2012 will be the 15th District. Although it picked up some conservative territory in rural Lebanon County, Charlie Dent will likely find a tough challenger in either John Callahan, the popular mayor of Bethlehem or Rich Daugherty, Lehigh County’s Democratic Party Chair. However, Dent has probably positioned himself sufficiently as a moderate to win over just enough of the more “urban” areas of the district.

To conclude, given the changes in the areas where Obama performed well in 2008, he cannot count on winning them again this time around. Is it enough to change the outcome? That is the big question. His approval ratings remain not that great and he may have lost many independents in the Philadelphia suburbs. Hence, at this point, it looks like their 20 electoral votes will go to Romney. The Democrats will manage to retain their Senate seat in the form of Bob Casey. In the House, the delegation will change from 12-7 GOP to 13-5 GOP which represents, in effect, a two seat Republican gain in the House.

Running totals thus far:
Obama 145 electoral votes to 219 for Romney;
Net gain of 2 Governors;
Net gain of 4 Senate seats, and;
Net loss of 5 House seats.

Next: New York