Maps: What Democrats Are Up Against in PA-8

While the 8th district is the most competitive in Pennsylvania, under its current boundaries it slightly, but durably, favored Republicans for Congress over the past decade in competitive elections.

Democrat Patrick Murphy won the 8th in 2006. But if the votes had been counted based on the new lines, he’d have lost to Republican Mike Fitzpatrick.

PoliticsPA looked at the 2006 results in the Montgomery County and Philadelphia precincts that used to be part of the 8th, and the Montgomery County precincts that comprise the district now. We counted votes for Fitzpatrick, Rep. Charlie Dent, and Rep. Allyson Schwartz’s challenger Raj Bhakta in one column; votes for Murphy, Dent challenger Charles Dertinger and Schwartz in the other.

Combined, the Republicans took 50.36%, 130,234 votes, in a historic Democratic wave year. Democrats won 49.64%, 128,395 votes.

The map below shows PA-8 with its old and new lines. Republican map-drawers redistricted sections 1 and 2 out of PA-8 in 2011, and added section 4.

PA8 2006 Results on 2011 lines

2006 congressional results along current and former district lines

Section 1: Murphy won Northeast Philadelphia with 54.41% of the vote (6,024 to 5,048).
Section 2: Murphy won Willow Grove in Montgomery County with 62.22% of the vote (3,987 to 2,421).
Section 3: Fitzpatrick won Bucks County with 51.22% of the vote (116,669 to 115,645).
Section 4: Dent beat Dertinger with 62% of the vote (6,725 to 4,109).
Section 4: Schwartz beat Bhatka with 55.82% of the vote (8,641 to 6,840).

Fitzpatrick won Bucks County in 2006 even as Governor Ed Rendell won 70.13% of the vote in his re-election bid and Bob Casey took 58.55% in his bid for Senate.

Bucks makes up 89.2% of the 8th district’s total registered voters according to Labels & Lists. Considering how closely the County tends to track the national average in presidential elections, the portion of the 8th district from outside of the county usually helps determine the partisan composition of the district.

Section 4, northern Montco, gave 50.58% of its two-way vote share to John McCain in 2008 and 55.12% of its two-way vote share to Mitt Romney in 2012.

There are obvious limitations to this analysis. Had Murphy and Fitzpatrick been running in a differently-drawn district, they would have allocated campaign resources differently. And since neither Dent nor Schwartz faced a serious opponent in 2006, turnout patterns would also change.

But within the confines of this scenario, the lesson is that Democrats will need one of three things to win the seat: a bigger wave than they had in 2006, a weaker Republican opponent, or demographic changes.

2006: Municipal breakdown

Below is a map of the 2006 congressional election results under the current district lines. The Bucks County portion shows the results from the Fitzpatrick/Murphy race and the Montgomery County portion shows the results of the 13th and 15th district elections.

PA8 2006 Results Municipal

The Franconia and Upper Hanover areas were represented by then-freshman Congressman Dent, who ran strongly for a Republican in those areas. Then-freshman Congresswoman Schwartz represented the Hatfield, Kulpsville, and Salford areas.

Schwartz easily won her portion of northeastern Montco in 2006; even Barack Obama didn’t match her performance there in 2008. Her win shows how a strong Democratic incumbent could theoretically perform in the 8th district’s Montgomery County section.

2012

Murphy easily held onto the seat in the Obama wave of 2008 against a middle-tier opponent. Fitzpatrick convincingly won it back in the Republican wave of 2010.

Democrats believed that they could give him a competitive election in 2012, but he defeated attorney Kathy Boockvar by 13.2%. He improved by 5.87% in Bucks County over his 2006 showing. Fitzpatrick ran 5.78% ahead of Mitt Romney in Montgomery County and 6.68% ahead of Romney in Bucks County.

Below is a map of the 2012 general election results in PA-8. Fitzpatrick improved over his performance in 2006 almost everywhere in the district. His greatest over-performances came in Central and Upper Bucks.

PA8 2012 Results Municipal

Presidential comparisons

In 2012, the 8th provided the closest presidential margin of any congressional district in the country. Even as he lost Bucks County by 1.16% in the two-way vote share, Romney carried the 8th district by 255 votes – 0.1% of the total.

The new 8th district voted 0.16% to the left of the country in 2008. But it was almost two points to the right of the country in 2012, reaffirming the 8th district’s reputation as a battleground and giving it a Cook Partisan Voting Index of R+1.

Below is a map that shows how far Mike Fitzpatrick ran ahead of Mitt Romney throughout the 8th district. Fitzpatrick overperformed Romney in every municipality.

PA8 2012 Results Fitzpatrick Over Romney

Fitzpatrick overperformed Romney in 2012 by almost six points* as an incumbent. He overperformed George W. Bush’s showing in Bucks County in 2004 by seven points when PA-8 was an open seat. Then-incumbent Congressman Jim Greenwood overperformed George W. Bush’s 2000 showing in Bucks County by eleven points.

*Using the two-way vote total between Romney and Obama, and omitting third party candidates.

Below is a map that shows how President Obama performed in the 2008 presidential election within the new boundaries of the 8th district. He took 53.8% of the two-way vote share versus John McCain.

PA8 2008 Results Presidential

2016

Two Democrats, Shaughnessy Naughton and Kevin Strouse, have declared for Congress and hope to challenge Fitzpatrick. But the party’s strongest chance to retake this seat is next cycle.

Fitzpatrick, who served 10 years as a County Commissioner prior to Congress, set a term limit for himself. If he follows through on his promise, 2014 will mark his final re-election bid. That means, barring a Democratic victory next year, there will be an open seat battle in 2016.

While the vote trends still favor a Republican in a generic matchup, at least Democrats won’t have the additional challenge of incumbency to work against. And their turnout tends to be higher in presidential years – an extra boost if they have a strong candidate at the top of the ticket (e.g. Hillary Clinton).

Then there’s the demographics. New Bucks County residents from Philadelphia and New Jersey brought their party affiliation with them. In November 2000, registered Republicans outnumbered Democrats 192,498 to 145,625 in Bucks. In November 2012, Democrats outnumbered Republicans 189,111 to 178,415.

Next year will be a tough slog and Fitzpatrick is a significant favorite. But Democrats have reason to hope for 2016.

Maps created by Peter Kondelis with Dave’s Redistricting App.

7 thoughts on “Maps: What Democrats Are Up Against in PA-8

  1. The biggest “problem” that this article doesn’t mention is that the Bucks County Democrats simply have no bench.

    They’ve voted for the Democrat in the last 6 Presidential elections; controlled the County Commission as recently as 25 years ago, and elected a Democrat to Congress 9 out of the last 19 times. Yet they hold ZERO State Senate seats, ZERO County Row Offices, and hold only 3 State House seats, clustered together in Lower Bucks. They need to be working on State Legislative seats before they start dreaming about Congress.

    This is a big big problem in SEPA…Democrats in SEPA are OBSESSED with Congressional seats. In 2006 and 2010, when the majority of the Republican held State Senate seats in SEPA were up for election; the Dems made zero effort to compete in these seats. Even now, looking forward to 2014, we have all these candidates talking about running for Congress, and no one interested in running against Tommy Tomlinson and Chuck McIlhinney in Bucks Co; against Stewart Greenleaf or John Rafferty in Montgomery Co; against Edwin Erickson in Delaware Co; or even against Pat Browne in Lehigh Co. The SEPA Dems just do not have the State Senate on their radar. We only need 2 seats plus win the Governorship to win back the State Senate.

  2. The battle of 2016 is shaping up already. If Strouse follows the original Murphy plan with a midterm run for name ID building and then a presidential year run as a known candidate with favorable GOTV efforts he could pull it off.
    Here is the real article that should follow this one however…. There is a list of local Democrats who know a run against Fitz is pointless and are waiting for 2016.
    This includes two prominent men, Councilman Det Ansinn and State Rep Steve Santarseiro. Both have run for county commissioner and lost. They also both live in the 10th senatorial district of Chuck McIlhinney who is very popular and a well known fundraiser. This means if they want to climb the ladder they will have to run against to very strong incumbents. This means that a very difficult primary may be coming for the Dem nomination in 2016 which may not be a bad thing.
    Then there is the list of possible Republicans lining up. County Commissioner Rob Loughery, State Rep Frank Farry, State Senator Chuck McIlhinney, LG Jim Cawley (unlikely but possible), and current DA Dave Heckler who probably could run against the second coming of Jesus Christ and beat him by 20 points. The reality is that 2016 is going to be a bare knuckle brawl as the bench for the GOP is nothing to slouch at and the Dems lining up, especially Santarseiro who raises $300K for a state rep race every other year, are also formidable.
    I would not be surprised if $10 million was spent just in the 8th district race in 2016. Both sides will be all in.

  3. Great article. Fitz wins big in 2014. Every credible/potential 2016 Dem candidate and their allies will be cutting whomever Dems serve up in the fall of 2014. Both would be 2014 Dem candidates make Bookvar look strong.

  4. Hopefully, people here will now realize that Fitzpatrick will not be beaten in 2014, especially if he has a second-tier candidate opposing him on the ballot, candidates who just moved into the district no less!

    Even if a Democrat wins in 2016, what will happen in 2018? Unless you get a conservative Democrat elected in 2016, the seat will flip back to Republican hands, even more so if a Democ… I mean, Hillary Clinton… wins in 2016.

    Hopefully the DCCC reads this piece and stops wasting resources.

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