In the homestretch now, and things start to get more interesting. Today, I turn to my home state, New Jersey, and its neighbor, Pennsylvania.
Besides the congressional races, there is a Senate race in New Jersey where incumbent Corey Booker, who won a special election to replace the deceased [mc_name name=’Rep. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’L000123′ ], will square off against Republican Jeff Bell. In the special election, Booker defeated Steve Lonegan by 10.9 points which was the closest a Republican has come to winning in a Senate race in New Jersey in many years.
Make no mistake, Corey Booker will win a full 6-year term in the Senate this year. The problem for Booker is that although he may be a darling of the Democratic/liberal fundraising circuit and the Hollywood intelligentsia (an oxymoron), it is not translating into electoral “success” in New Jersey where Democrats are expected to crush their opponents statewide. I will say one thing for Corey Booker. On three occasions now I have sent e-mail letters to both Booker and [mc_name name=’Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ)’ chamber=’senate’ mcid=’M000639′ ]. On all 3 occasions, Booker has actually responded and not in form letter fashion. Menendez solicited a contribution; Booker answered my concerns- not to my complete satisfaction- but he did acknowledge and address them.
His GOP opponent, Jeff Bell, came out of political retirement and won the primary where all four candidates were basically even. This underscores the fact that although there are bona fide Republican candidates in New Jersey, none of them are palatable statewide. Even still, Booker is not “crushing” Bell. A July poll had Bell within 7 points, but he has since drifted back. Prediction: Corey Booker by about 15-18 points.
Of the 12 congressional seats, three are open races and the delegation is currently evenly divided 6-6. The ethically-challenged Rob Andrews is retiring in the First District based in Camden County across the river from Philadelphia. As an aside, you can smell Camden itself about 5 miles away. Gary Cobb, a former football player and local sports personality, will be the GOP candidate against Donald Norcross for the Democrats, a politician who epitomizes New Jersey political sleaze, corruption and back-room dealing. Norcross will win, but don’t be surprised if he is embroiled in some scandal in the next two years.
The Second District is represented by [mc_name name=’Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’L000554′ ] who first won in 1994. He is a Republican representing a district increasingly turning blue. He has had the good fortune of facing weak opposition in the past. This year he faces Bill Hughes, Jr., the son of a former popular Congressman. LoBiondo has also had the benefit of redistricting. The loss of a congressional seat pushed his district lines further north into more conservative territory. Because of the name, I expect this to be a close race, but LoBiondo will prevail by about 5-10 points.
The 3rd District is being vacated by Republican John Runyan. The New Jersey Republican establishment got their man in Tom MacArthur while Aimee Belgard will be the Democrat. This will be a close race. Although Runyan represented it for four years, it is nominally rated Democratic because its population base is the eastern suburbs of Philadelphia. I am predicting a rarity this year- a Democratic victory by a very narrow margin (less than 5%), although McArthur leads in polling thus far. This race will definitely be revisited at the end of this series.
The only other race of interest is the open 12th where Democrat Bonnie Coleman will win this seat. Although it will be closer than what the 12th is used to, it should remain in Democratic control. Some believe the 5th District occupied by Republican Steve Garrett would be competitive, but polling indicates a double digit victory for the GOP. Thus out of New Jersey, I predict the GOP will lose one seat in the House at this time.
Moving over to Pennsylvania, there is the gubernatorial race and some congressional races of interest. If ample polling is any indication, Republican incumbent Governor Tom Corbett will be a one-and-out Governor. His opponent will be businessman Tom Wolf who won a crowded primary and beat presumptive front runner, [mc_name name=’Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’S001162′ ]. Being a victim of Philadelphia programming and commercials, Wolf’s main attacks on Corbett have been over education funding and energy production. Specifically, Wolf wants to tax energy companies and use that revenue to finance education in Pennsylvania. Most of his ads cite three year old articles denouncing Corbett. Corbett has since become more aggressive in defending his record.
Nothing against Corbett, but it may be too little too late. Dating back to July, Wolf is at or above 49% in all the polls. Despite Corbett’s more aggressive attacks on Wolf lately, they are transitory in their effect on the electorate. I do find one Wolf ad where he is surrounded by “school children” used as props to advance his populist message quite despicable, but indicative of a liberal Democrat. Although I do not believe the margin of victory will be as huge as some polls are showing, I do predict that Tom Wolf will win by 8-10 points.
The current delegation to Congress from Pennsylvania favors the GOP 13-5. For a state like Pennsylvania, one would expect an adjustment to even out those numbers. Could this be the year? Of the five seats in Democratic control, one is open- the 13th- which was vacated by [mc_name name=’Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’S001162′ ]. I would not say it is impossible for a Republican to take this Northeast Philadelphia-based district, but improbable. All their other seats are safe.
The Democratic targets of opportunity are the 6th, 8th, and 15th Districts. However, [mc_name name=’Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’D000604′ ] is running unopposed in the 15th. In the 8th District, Republican Mike Fitzpatrick will face Democrat Kevin Strouse. Cook rates this district +1 Republican (I rate it +1 Democratic). It takes in the northern suburbs of Philadelphia, a rapidly growing area of the state. Fitzpatrick has been a target of the Democrats in the past and has survived. There is money flowing into this race on both sides and should be a race to be watched early on Election Day. I am not sure about this one. This district is increasingly turning towards the Democratic Party as mobile, somewhat liberal people from Philadelphia with ties to the Democratic Party settle in this district. Strouse is not pushing the boundaries of liberalism in his campaign. Since there is no polling here, I am predicting that based on demographics, Kevin Strouse will win this race. However, I hope I am wrong. One thing in Fitzpatrick’s favor: Strouse is endorsed by [mc_name name=’Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’P000197′ ], not a particularly popular figure in Pennsylvania.
The other race of interest is the 6th District which is being vacated by the retiring Republican incumbent [mc_name name=’Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA)’ chamber=’house’ mcid=’G000549′ ]. It is also a growing Philadelphia suburban area which Cook rates +1 Republican (I rate it even). Both parties have invested heavily in this race. For the Democrats, it will Manan Trivedi while Ryan Costello will be the GOP candidate. This is Trivedi’s 3rd consecutive attempt here, the previous two being against Gerlach.
Unlike the 8th, the dynamics are different. Polls indicate a Costello victory here. Just recently, the DCCC withdrew over $500,000 of advertisement time in support of Trivedi. Although they will not admit it, there is apparently some unreleased polling out there indicating that the chances of the Democrats here are fading- a charge they denied through obscure rhetoric and attacks on Costello. Furthermore, about half of the district’s population lives in Chester County which went heavily for Corbett in 2010. The down-ballot effect of Corbett will be important. If he could hold his own in Chester County, then Costello’s chances increase. Overall, I am predicting that Ryan Costello will win this race by 9-10 points.
For those interested, the running count for the GOP is a net gain of four House seats and three Senate seats at this point.
Next: Back to the Upper Midwest and a look at Ohio and Minnesota