There’s been a great deal of hype about Democratic chances in the 2012 cycle, and the party is optimistic. But the GOP – historically so effective at winning seats in the chamber – has moved to blunt their momentum.
One pickup is the floor for Democrats, and three net pickups is the ceiling. They won’t gain the majority, but they could change Republicans’ math on a host of legislative initiatives like vouchers, tort reform and state budgets.
Seats are ranked by likeliness to switch party control, with rankings compared to our Top 5 list from September.
SD-49. Open seat, Republican, most of Erie County
Previous rank: 1
Sen. Jane Earll (R) is retiring and two top tied candidates are vying to replace her: Republican Janet Anderson, a former staffer for Earll and Tom Ridge who spent years working on economic development issues in the region; and Democrat Sean Wiley, an executive on the business side of St. Vincent Hospital and a former county government employee. Since our list in September, both campaigns have been on TV and in mailboxes. But Wiley is ahead – not just in his polls, but in GOP internals as well. Most Republicans are conceding this seat.
SD-37. Open seat, southern Allegheny County and Peters Township, Washington County
Previous rank: 2
This will be the most expensive legislative race in Pa. at over $3 million. Republican businessman Raja faces an uphill climb against state Rep. and Dem Matt Smith despite having a funding advantage. They’re both contending for the seat of former Sen. John Pippy (R). But Raja has a problem: he’s been in three high-intensity campaigns since 2011, and as a result his negatives are unusually high for a legislative candidate – hence him bringing out the big guns in his latest TV ad. Smith’s polling has him up by double digits; Republicans say Raja is closing and within the margin of error.
SD-15. Open seat, Republican, most of Dauphin County including the city of Harrisburg, parts of northern York County
Previous rank: 3
This is likely to be the closest state Senate race in Pa. and it’s the focus of GOP efforts to contain losses in a difficult cycle. Total spending will end up over $1 million. Both candidates are well connected in Harrisburg and were the picks of the state’s party leaders to run for the seat of retiring Sen. Jeff Piccola (R). Rob Teplitz, the Democrat, is Chief Counsel and Policy Director in the Pa. Auditor General’s office. He faces Republican John McNally, the former chairman of the Dauphin County Republican Committee and a partner at a local law firm.
McNally’s had an advantage with direct mail, Teplitz on TV. Both have gone back and forth over education funding, with Teplitz on the attack and McNally forced to disavow the GOP budgets. Now, McNally is hammering Teplitz over a commuter tax – anathema to Harrisburg suburbanites who comprise most of the district. Watch their closing ads here.
SD-35. John Wozniak, Democrat, all of Cambria and Clinton counties, parts of Centre, Clearfield and Somerset counties
Previous rank: not ranked
Playing defense is the last thing Republicans are used to when it comes to the Pa. Senate, and they didn’t want to spend the whole cycle that way. So they decided to take $250K and make a run at Wozniak, who has been in Harrisburg for 32 years. The GOP hopeful is Tim Houser, a likeable funeral home owner from Ebensburg. The campaign is on TV and in mailboxes.
Republicans say that Woz is weak in a cycle when western Pa. is tilting rightward. Democrats characterize the move as a head-fake, meant to distract party leaders and divert donor dollars where they aren’t needed. Wozniak will likely be boosted by a superior get out the vote operation by Rep. Mark Critz.
SD-47, Elder Vogel, Republican, most of Beaver and Lawrence counties
Previous rank: 4
Barring a Democratic surge in western Pa., it looks like Sen. Vogel is going to keep his seat. Democrat Kim Villella is a good candidate with a big family network and an impressive resume. She started a salon as a young woman and now she and her husband own several businesses in the district. But Vogel is a well-regarded elected official who doesn’t pick fights. This star has faded for Democrats in Harrisburg, who thanks to three retirements, have an embarrassment of riches as far as pickup opportunities.
No longer ranked
SD-29. Dave Argall, Republican, all of Schuylkill County and parts of Berks, Carbon, Monroe, and Northampton counties.
Previous rank: 5
Former state Rep. Tim Seip is a good candidate, and Sen. Dave Argall (R) has faced tons of negative ads in the past 2 years as a candidate for Congress and in the primary in April. But Argall is popular enough, and the map is already spread out enough, that it doesn’t look like Seip’s year.