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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.