Democrats made historic gains in the state Senate in 2012, winning in 3 seats where GOP incumbents retired. Republicans now hold a 27 to 23 majority.
But the picture in 2014 is significantly more favorable for the GOP.
There are 8 state Senate districts in play in 2014. Democrats would need to win 6 of them to get to a pure majority in the chamber. Or they could win 5 seats and win the Governor’s race (the Lieutenant Governor casts the deciding vote in a 25-25 tie).
In other words, to win a majority, Democrats would need to protect two vulnerable incumbents, win two open seats, and oust two Republican incumbents. That’s a tall order.
It could happen if wave of voter sentiment rises against Republicans generally or Governor Tom Corbett in particular. But midterm elections tend to favor the party opposite the President, and Barack Obama’s numbers give Democrats little comfort. Additional retirements on either side could also change the outlook.
Here are the seats in play.
Open Seat: SD-26
The SEPA district of state Sen. Ted Erickson (R-Delaware) is one of Democrats’ top opportunities for a pickup. Erickson announced this summer that he wouldn’t seek re-election in 2014. Delaware County Republicans have shown their talent at holding onto local seats, but the County isn’t immune to even-year political trends favoring Democrats.
Republicans have yet to anoint a candidate, while the Democrats will put up John Kane, the business manager of the Plumbers Union Local 690.
Open Seat: SD-40
The 40th district, formerly that of ex-Sen. Jane Orie, was moved to Monroe County in northeast Pa. during redistricting.
Republicans already have a candidate: well-known state Rep. Mario Scavello (R-Monroe), who has been preparing a bid for years. He cruised in 2012 with a 10 point re-election bid (although he was not heavily targeted).
GOP Seat: SD-38
State Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny) announced Tuesday that he would not seek re-election in 2014.
During the reapportionment process, his seat was merged with that of state Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-Allegheny). Gone are the Pittsburgh neighborhoods and Allegheny River towns that made the 38th district solid blue. In their place are deep red pockets in the North Hills of Allegheny County.
The new SD-38 is good for Republicans. Mitt Romney beat Barack Obama there by 6.4% there in 2012 despite losing the state overall by 5.4%. However, it’s not a slam dunk for the GOP. Sen. Bob Casey won the district by 0.6% and Kathleen Kane won by 5.8%.
Given Ferlo’s unabashedly liberal record, Dems’ chances in this new district may be better with a new, moderate recruit than they were with the incumbent. Plus Democrats can take the money they would have spent in an uphill climb to defend Ferlo and use it in other races. But Vulakovich is popular and easily starts the race as the favorite.
GOP Seats: SD-6, SD-12 & SD-16
Dems are hoping to mount serious challenges to state Sens. Tommy Tomlinson (R-Bucks), Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) and Pat Browne (R-Lehigh).
The districts are in trending blue eastern Pa. (Browne’s is the most Democratic district held by a Republican), but they are “reach” targets. Democrats are still in the recruitment process for candidates.
Dems would have to spend a significant amount of campaign cash even to compete for any of these seats. GOP prospects could be endangered by significant collateral damage from the Governor’s race.
Dem Seat: SD-32
Republicans are coming hard at state Sen. Rich Kasunic (D-Fayette), who represents in the most conservative Senate seat held by a Democrat.
GOP chatter suggests the party is planning to spend $750,000 to $1 million to oust him. Every dollar Democrats spend to defend him is a dollar that won’t be spent against a GOP incumbent.
Romney won the southwestern Pa. district 60% to 40% in 2012, while Tom Smith outpaced Bob Casey 55% to 45%. Kathleen Kane won 54% to 46%.
Dem Seat: SD-46
State Sen. Tim Solobay (D-Washington) could face a concerted GOP challenge, although he would be a “reach” target.
He represents all of Greene County, most of Washington and some of Beaver after a million dollar, open seat battle in 2010 (he won by 6 points).
Romney won the district 54% to 46%, while Casey won 51% to 49%.
Notes: all past election results come from the newly drawn district boundaries, which will go into effect for the first time in 2014.
Head-to-head results, such as between Romney and Obama, refer to candidates’ two-way vote share.