This is shaping up to be a banner year for the Senate Democrats — with Tom Wolf consistently 25 points up in the polls (30 points in the most recent), and the control of the State House so far out of reach, the Senate Democrats are the only game in town for statewide and national Democratic donors and supporters. Combined with last cycle’s successes of picking up three seats, there is a palpable energy and confidence in the Democratic leadership, the campaign committee’s operation, the candidates, and the Senate Democrats’ chances.
Bolstered by the lack of serious races to put the Senate Democrats on defense, plus Wolf’s strength and Corbett’s weakness making him an anchor around the neck of every Republican in Pennsylvania, there is a strong likelihood that this will be the year where the Senate Democrats regain control of the chamber.
Currently, there are 23 Democrats and 27 Republicans in the Senate chamber. Therefore, 26 seats represents a majority, although if one party obtains 25 seats and the Governorship they would gain the majority as the Lt. Governor casts the tie-breaking vote.
Every two-years, half of the Senate comes up for election (the 25 odd-numbered districts run with the President at the top of the ticket, and the 25 even-numbered districts run with the Governor). Since this is a gubernatorial year, all of the even-numbered districts are up for re-election.
As Christopher Nicholas did in his guest column, I will only be looking at the 16 contested Senate races this November, and not discussing the races that are not on the ballot, or the ones where there is no opposition from the other party (for obvious reasons).
Seats that are likely to flip (in order of likelihood)
Note that all three of the Democrats in these races are currently on TV in their districts.
Senate District 26 – Republican Held – Leans Democratic
D – Kane
R – McGarrigle
Analysis: Any way you cut it, this is going to be the biggest race in the legislature. Even though the seat is Republican-held, this is a district that consistently votes five to ten points better for Democrats than the rest of the state does. Additionally, the Delaware County Democrats have made incredible gains over the last several years in registration, organization, fundraising, and candidate recruitment including the State House candidates, which will only help Democrat John Kane as they run strong.
Of course, any race this important, attracts major players and their check books: the Senate Majority Leader Republican Dominic Pileggi will be making the pitch that this seat needs to stay Republican-held or else he will lose his leadership position — a compelling argument to many Southeastern Pennsylvania donors of both parties who are concerned with losing influence to the more rural parts of the state and their decidedly anti-Philadelphia bend. On the Democratic side, this is being viewed as a battle for the heart and soul of Pennsylvania’s suburban working class, bringing out traditional Democratic groups from organized labor to issue-based groups like Planned Parenthood and Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania, who will all be looking to make this their marquee race — it doesn’t hurt that the John Kane is a labor leader in his own right.
Senate District 40 – Republican Held – Tossup
D – Aurand
R – Scavello
Analysis: Democrat Mark Aurand survived a hotly-contested Democratic primary proving that as a newcomer, he has the organization and political smarts needed to win. On his side are the changing demographics of Monroe and Northampton Counties with the influx of New York and New Jersey residents who make up the traditional Democratic base. The Republican, State Rep. Mario Scavello has a strong fundraising base, and has represented large portions of the district for some time. However, Scavello’s support for the transportation bill that raised gas taxes (a big issue when a lot of the district commutes to New York City for work), Corbett’s cuts to education, and standing with Corbett on many other issues will be tough to overcome.
Senate District 6 – Republican Held – Tossup
D – Rose
R – Tomlinson*
Analysis: Democrat Kim Rose came to run for the State Senate by beating the Republican party machine to unseat a popular incumbent Township Supervisor in the very red part of a very blue district. While she has her work cut out for her, once again facing a long-serving Republican in Senator Tommy Tomlinson, this looks to be her year. Tommy Tomlinson has taken a series of unpopular votes, specifically voting for the Corbett education cuts. Perhaps most damning are the votes he took in lock-step with the conservative wing of the Republican party on issues of women’s health (I assume, voting his heart, rather than his deep-blue district). Like Scavello, this race rises or falls on how convincingly Tomlinson is tied to Corbett, and Wolf maintaining his significant lead in the polls.
Seats to watch (in order of likelihood of flipping)
Senate District 44 – Republican Held – Leans Republican
D – Cozzone
R – Rafferty*
Analysis: Democrat Kathi Cozzone is an incredibly popular County Commissioner, and Republican John Rafferty’s transportation bill raised gas taxes on this largely rural district. Rafferty is well-known and well-funded, but his negatives will have to be overcome. Look for spending on the part of the Senate Democrats to try to move the numbers in this district.
Senate District 12 – Republican Held – Leans Republican
D – Damsker
R – Greenleaf*
Analysis: Democrat Ruth Damsker is a popular former County Commissioner and Senator Stewart Greenleaf (like Tomlinson) has taken a lot of votes on women’s health that are out of step with his district. A tough one for Damsker, but likely Greenleaf’s last run, putting Damsker in a great position for a special election win or a victory if Greenleaf doesn’t seek re-election in four years.
Senate District 10 – Republican Held – Leans Republican
D – Cickay
R – McIlhenny*
Analysis: Democrat Steve Cickay was the loyal party guy, putting his name on the ballot when no one else would. However, when a stronger candidate in Shaughnessy Naughton emerged, he decided to stay on the ballot, freezing most major Democratic donors out of the race. There’s still a chance in this Democratic-leaning district, but it’s going to be tough if Cickay doesn’t have money or organization.
Senate District 50 – Republican Held – Safe Republican
D – Muha
R – Brooks
Analysis: Democrat Mike Muha is a pillar of his Mercer County community and working the district hard. Given that this is an open seat, and Wolf is polling so well with the Republican base that makes up a lot of the district, this seat may be the sleeper of the year.
Seats that won’t flip
Senate District 2 – Democratic Held – Safe Democratic
D – Tartaglione*
R – Jenkins
Senate District 4 – Democratic Held – Safe Democratic
D – Haywood
R – Gilchrist
Senate District 32 – Democratic Held – Leans Democratic
D – Kula
R – Stefano
Analysis: Look for the Republicans to spend early to try to move numbers in this district, but success will be unlikely given registration, party performance, and the popularity of Democratic State Rep Deb Kula. Can’t blame them for trying as the conservative Southwestern part of the state looks like the only place for the Republicans to go for pickups while Pennsylvania becomes darker and darker blue. Unfortunately for them, this won’t be their seat.
Senate District 46 – Democratic Held – Safe Democratic
D – Solobay*
R – Bartolotta
Analysis: Democratic Senator Tim Solobay is popular and in a Democratic district. Like in the 32nd District, look for spending out of desperation rather than political analysis from the Republicans who are trying to find a place to gain ground.
Senate District 16 – Republican Held – Leans Republican
D – Felton
R – Browne*
Senate District 22 – Democratic Held – Safe Democratic
D – Blake*
R – Albert
Senate District 24 – Republican Held – Safe Republican
D – Hansen
R – Mensch*
Senate District 28 – Republican Held – Safe Republican
D – Small
R – Wagner*
Analysis: Republican Senator Scott Wagner will likely breeze through re-election but will be interesting to watch as he spends his fortune on Senate races other than his own, including his quixotic endeavor to help Republican Camera Bartolotta against Democratic Senator Tim Solobay in the 46th District.
Senate District 36 – Republican Held – Safe Republican
D – Schreckengost
R – Aument
As Christopher Nicholas pointed out, the Democrats 23 seats take a hit out of the box with the retirement of Democratic Senator Jim Ferlo in the 38th District which merged with Republican Senator Randy Vulakovich’s district, and Vulakovich will be running unopposed — effectively flipping a seat from Democratic to Republican through redistricting.
However, in a year where Governor Corbett will be such an impediment to Republicans, it looks like the top three “Likely to flip” seats flip, taking the Senate Democrats to 25 seats. Of course, this only happens with Tom Wolf winning, but with a Wolf win, the Democratic Lieutenant Governor will seal the Democratic majority in the State Senate with his 51st vote for the Democrats.
As Wolf continues to build his lead in the polls, don’t count out any of the races to watch. This could be an extraordinary year for the Senate Democrats.
Aren Platt is a veteran Democratic consultant, and is the Principal for Cycle Strategy whose clients include several Democratic State Senators and Democratic State Senate candidates including John Kane.