Every election cycle, we hear how Pennsylvania is a swing state and how important it is to the hopes of the Republican candidate. This reliance on the state is overstated. There is a vast swath of the state that is conservative and leans mostly Democratic. Unfortunately, none of that vast geographical area dictates statewide outcomes in Pennsylvania. Instead, it is mostly the suburbs of Pittsburgh and especially Philadelphia that dictates the outcome.
Leaving aside Philadelphia itself, one can see the the spread of Democratic power with each successive election in the surrounding counties. The key to winning Pennsylvania statewide lies in winning those counties. Although not a total lost cause for the GOP with the right candidate, the situation is worsening with each election.
Of the state’s 18 Congressional districts, only two could be considered truly competitive this year. For what is essentially a blue state, the current delegation favors the GOP 13-4 with one vacancy (the extremely blue 2nd) so in reality it is 13-5.
The first competitive district is the 8th which is being vacated by Republican Mike Fitzpatrick. The GOP candidate will be his brother and former FBI agent Brian Fitzpatrick. He easily won the GOP primary with over 78% of the vote. On the Democratic side will be Steve Santarsiero who defeated the favorite of the national Democratic Party Shaunessy Naughton with 60% of the vote.
This is one of those suburban Philadelphia districts that includes parts of Montgomery County and Bucks County. Mike Fitzpatrick won this race in 2010 in a wave year and his margin of victory has increased in 2012 and 2014 despite a narrow Romney advantage. Santarsiero has been running a series of commercials linking Fitzpatrick to Donald Trump at the top of the ticket. Considering that Trump will likely not perform well here, whether this line of attack works is a question that needs to be answered. Given the trends in this area and the fact that there may likely be an adjustment in the congressional delegation given Pennsylvania’s leanings, I would expect a Democratic victory here.
The other competitive district is the 6th- another Philadelphia suburban district that stretches into somewhat more favorable territory for the GOP: Lebanon and Chester counties. Ryan Costello, the GOP incumbent, faces Mike Parrish for the Democratic Party. For the Democrats, there was some intrigue as many were looking to Lindy Li as a viable candidate here, but Parrish challenged her ballot signatures and she eventually withdrew. Romney won this district in 2012 and Costello rode his coattails back into office. However, things are decidedly different this year with Trump who does not fit the district as well as Romney. If Costello prevails, it will not be by much.
As for the Senate race, GOP incumbent Pat Toomey faces Katie McGinty for the Democrats. As a recipient of Philadelphia television stations, advertisements on both sides are intense. One suspects McGinty and her outside group of supporters to run advertisements depicting Pat Toomey of killing puppies and eating your children for breakfast. Toomey has responded with some negative advertisements of his own questioning McGinty’s ethics.
This one will go down to the wire. Toomey barely won election in 2010 over a Democratic candidate that was basically shunned by his party for refusing to get out of the way for turncoat Arlen Specter. Toomey has trailed in 12 of the last 13 polls with the other being a tie. Toomey has not led in any poll since mid-October. Given these trends, one would have to expect a McGinty victory here.
As for the presidential race, let’s forget about their 20 electoral votes. If the GOP ever expects to flip this state, they should concentrate on fiscal, not social matters which seem to doom Republican candidates for statewide office. If not, then concentrate on states like Iowa, Nevada and Colorado that would likely help offset the increasingly reliable Democratic victories. Clinton will win Pennsylvania by about 4-6 points.
After this entry, let’s expect the loss of at least one, but possibly two House seats. Given districting in the state, a 12-6 or 11-7 GOP advantage is more realistic than the current 13-5. Worse case scenario is a two seat loss. Additionally, I am expecting a very narrow victory for McGinty over Toomey but he may be back in six years. Finally, Clinton will win the state and that fact alone may carry McGinty into the Senate.
The GOP holds the House 232-203, but the Democrats take the Senate 52-48 and Clinton adds to her lead in the electoral vote count 294-215.
Tomorrow: the final entry, Florida