11 Days to Election Day: Pennsylvania

OOPS!!! Forgot to hit publish yesterday. Better late than never.

Every four years, I hear the political pundits and talking heads yammer on about how Pennsylvania is a swing state and target of opportunity for the party not in power. And then every four years, the Democrat wins Pennsylvania’s electoral votes. In 2008, Obama took 17 Pennsylvania counties. His primary base of power was in the eastern half of the state almost from the southern to the northern border. It centered around Philadelphia, a bastion of the Democratic Party, and the immediate suburbs of Chester, Berks, Montgomery, and Bucks counties. While he won other counties that Kerry won in 2004, Obama’s margins were much higher plus he added counties. Kerry won no central state counties, yet Obama managed to pick up four. Kerry won 5 western counties, but Obama won only two- Allegheny (which includes Pittsburgh) and Erie. The key to winning Pennsylvania is to hold the central state counties and pick off a few counties in the Philadelphia suburbs. However, my sense is that Romney has not made his case clear enough to those fence sitters in those suburban areas. This is going against the recent spate of punditry that places Pennsylvania in play. Thus, although Obama will take 20 electoral votes out of this state, it will be lower than his almost 55% showing in 2008.

In the Senate race, Democratic incumbent Bob Casey will face Republican Tom Smith. Nothing against Tom Smith, but it is doubtful he could defeat Casey, although he is running tons of commercials. Unfortunately, they are defensive ads fending off accusations from Casey. Meanwhile, Smith is portraying Casey as a do nothing career politician. Quite frankly, I haven’t seen a single positive commercial from either candidate thus far. Casey came to power after defeating Rick Santorum in 2006 after previously holding the jobs of state auditor and treasurer. In 2002, he lost the Democratic primary for Governor to eventual winner Ed Rendell. In the Senate, he is probably best known for crafting the language in Obamacare regarding abortion to give Democratic supporters of the law political cover n their home districts. Although he claims to be an independent moderate, he has supported every one of Obama’s initiatives and was an early supporter of Obama in 2008. In 2006, Democrats in Pennsylvania were slightly upset over the choice of Casey given his somewhat neutral stance on abortion, but his key to victory that year was to pick off Santorum supporters, and the strategy paid off.

Tom Smith is a self-made millionaire who fought off four primary opponents spending a personal fortune doing so. In the end, his closest opponent, state legislator Sam Rohrer, finished 139,000 votes behind. Smith also helped form a Tea Party group in Pennsylvania and receives nominal support there. Thus far, Casey has raised $10 million and Smith $7 million, which is kind of impressive for a challenger here. And outside spending just broke the $600,000 mark in September, so there has not been that much such spending in this race. That being said, Casey leads by about 9 points in the polls although this race sort of looks like the 2010 Rossi v. Murray race in Washington where the Republican challenger was closing the gap heading into Election Day. Unfortunately, it will probably end up with similar results for the GOP.

In the 2010 census, Pennsylvania lost one House seat. Redistricting seemed to shore up some Republican areas while drawing Democratic incumbent Jason Altmire, arguably one of the more conservative Democratic members of the House, into the same district as Mark Critz thus forcing a primary battle between them. Of the 18 districts, seven of them are of interest. Most pundits do not include the 3rd around Erie in the northwestern corner, but I believe it is a race to watch. Currently represented by Republican Mike Kelly, the district is nominally Republican. Kelly has the advantage this year, but a strong candidate in two to four years down the line could result in this district flipping to the Democratic column.

The 4th District is an open race after Todd Platts announced his retirement sticking to his campaign pledge of a self-imposed term limit. He is Republican. State representative Scott Perry is the favorite to keep this Ohio border district in Republican hands. He will face Hugh Perkinson who won a contentious primary against Mike Lee by portraying Lee as too liberal for this district. The Sixth District, one of those Philly suburb districts, barely leans Republican and is represented by the GOP in the name of Jim Gerlach. Gerlach has had electoral problems winning this district by small margins in the past until 2010 when he defeated Manan Trivedi by double digits and cruised to victory. Ironically, Trivedi will be his opponent again this year. Redistricting made the area a little better for Democrats, but Republicans are counting on Gerlach’s incumbency to overcome that fact and they are pumping money into this race to shore things up.

The Seventh District is another of the Philadelphia suburbs district comprising most of Delaware county. Represented by GOP incumbent Patrick Meehan, the district is actually nominally Democratic. This was the seat formerly held by Joe Sestak who lost the Senate race to Pat Toomey in 2010. Meehan is a former federal prosecutor who led probes of Philadelphia corruption under the leadership of former mayor John Street. His opponent will be George Badey who has been active in Philadelphia and Radnor, a Philly suburb, politics for some time now. Despite this being a Democratic leaning district, before redistricting it was actually more Democratic. Hence, given Meehan’s 6-1 money advantage, incumbency (he helped save jobs at two threatened oil refineries in his district), and Republican additions through redistricting, he should win reelection.

The 8th District, covering most of Bucks county, is also nominally Democratic in outlook. In fact, the district has been going back and forth over several cycles of late with Republican Mike Fitzpatrick winning it in 2010. This time he faces newcomer Kathy Boockvar who, for a neophyte, has done surprisingly well in the fundraising department. This is one race that needs to be watched early on election night to see how the House will play out. If Republicans are to lose any seats out of Pennsylvania, it will be this one and it would be a mild upset.

Lou Barletta, a Republican, won the slightly Democratic 11th District and would probably be vulnerable if the Democrats ran a more formidable candidate than Gene Stilp. This is the Scranton region in the northeast part of the state. Whereas the 8th represents a potential loss for the Republicans, the 12th district would be the potential Democratic loss. Located in the southwest corner of the state, Jason Altmire’s district suffered the most in redistricting and he was drawn into fellow Democrat Mark Critz’ district. Critz defeated Altmire in the primary. Critz was first appointed to this seat after the death of longtime representative Joe Murtha. In 2010, he barely won a full term with 51% of the vote despite his vote against Obamacare. Keith Rothfus will again be the Republican candidate who barely lost to Altmire in 2010. However, in redistricting, the job becomes a little tougher now since Johnstown- a heavy blue collar Democratic base- is in this district and is Critz territory.

Finally, there is the 17th District located in the central part of the state. This district has been showing Democratic tendencies over recent voting cycles. Held by Democrat Tim Holden, he lost his primary battle against Matthew Cartright who portrayed Holden as being too conservative and out of touch with this changing district. Although considered a weak Republican district, Obamot Cartright will likely keep this district in the hands of the Democratic Party against Tea Party favorite Laureen Cummings.

In conclusion: Obama takes the state’s 20 electoral votes as Bob Casey wins reelection to the Senate. The current House delegation favors Republicans 13-6. After Election Day, it should be 12-6 in favor of the GOP.

Running totals thus far: Obama leads the electoral vote count 237-181. Republicans lead in the Senate 41-39 and the House 173-162.

Next: Wisconsin