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Can Pennsylvania Democrats Pick Up Any US House Seats with Corbett Loss?

PA-US-Congressional-Districts-All1The reelection prospects of embattled Republican Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett have been journalistic catnip over the last year, with storylines ranging from failed whispers within the GOP to persuade the governor to retire, to speculation he could be knocked out in a Republican primary, to the very long line of Democratic contenders itching to get a chance at facing the nation’s most vulnerable GOP governor in the general election.

But Pennsylvania Democrats are facing their own struggles – including their attempt to win back a few of the seven U.S. House seats lost between the 2008 and 2012 cycles when the party’s delegation decreased from 12 members to just five.

(Smart Politics previously reported on how redistricting has produced a historically undersized Democratic U.S. House delegation in the 113th Congress vis-à-vis the state’s presidential vote).

At the moment, however, most of the 13 GOP congressional districts seem safe, with Mike Fitzpatrick’s 8th CD seat perhaps the most likely to flip.

That means Democrats in Washington are counting on a very strong performance by their gubernatorial nominee at the top of the ticket (with U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz the early favorite) to give some of the party’s down the ballot U.S. House hopefuls a chance at victory.

For, as it stands now, a Democratic gubernatorial pick-up in 2014 without the party netting at least two congressional seats would make electoral history in the Keystone State.

A Smart Politics review of Pennsylvania election data finds that the lowest percentage of U.S. House seats elected alongside the party of the state’s winning gubernatorial candidate is 36 percent, set in 1890.

Democrats won the governor’s mansion that cycle with Robert Pattison but carried just 10 of 28 congressional seats.

Since the birth of the modern two-party system in 1828, there have been 42 gubernatorial elections conducted in Pennsylvania that coincided with elections to the U.S. House.

Overall, 765 of the 1,177 congressional seats on the ballot in such cycles during this 185-year span were carried by the winning gubernatorial candidate, or an average of 65 percent.

In 32 of these cycles, the party of the victorious gubernatorial candidate carried at least half of the congressional seats – peaking at over 80 percent nine times:

· 1872 (Republicans): 82 percent, 22 of 27 seats (Governor John Hartranft)

· 1894 (Republicans): 93 percent, 28 of 30 seats (Daniel Hastings)

· 1902 (Republicans): 88 percent, 28 of 32 seats (Samuel Pennypacker)

· 1914 (Republicans): 83 percent, 30 of 36 seats (Martin Brumbaugh)

· 1918 (Republicans): 81 percent, 29 of 36 seats (William Sprout)

· 1922 (Republicans): 83 percent, 30 of 36 seats (Gifford Pinchot)

· 1926 (Republicans): 94 percent, 34 of 36 seats (John Fisher)

· 1930 (Republicans): 92 percent, 33 of 36 seats (Giffort Pinchot)

· 1946 (Republicans): 85 percent, 28 of 33 seats (Jim Duff)

Over the last 15 cycles since 1954, the only time a gubernatorial candidate has been elected along with at least 60 percent of his party’s U.S. House seats was in 2010 when Corbett and 12 of 19 Republican U.S. House nominees were victorious (63 percent).

In 10 cycles during the two-party era, less than half of the state’s congressional seats – but no less than 36 percent – came from the party of the elected governor, with seven of these cycles taking place during the last 50 years:

· 1882 (Democrats): 43 percent, 12 of 28 seats (Governor Robert Pattison)

· 1890 (Democrats): 36 percent, 10 of 28 seats (Robert Pattison)

· 1954 (Democrats): 47 percent, 14 of 30 seats (George Leader)

· 1966 (Republicans): 48 percent, 13 of 27 seats (Raymond Shafer)

· 1978 (Republicans): 40 percent, 10 of 25 seats (Dick Thornburgh)

· 1982 (Republicans): 44 percent, 10 of 23 seats (Dick Thornburgh)

· 1990 (Democrats): 48 percent, 11 of 23 seats (Bob Casey)

· 1994 (Republicans): 48 percent, 10 of 21 seats (Tom Ridge)

· 1998 (Republicans): 48 percent, 10 of 21 seats (Tom Ridge)

· 2002 (Democrats): 37 percent, 7 of 19 seats (Ed Rendell)

Democrats currently hold 28 percent of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional seats (five of 18).

As such, if the Democratic Party does indeed take back the governor’s mansion in 2014, it will have to net two U.S. House seats to avoid setting the record for the weakest gubernatorial coattails in congressional races in Keystone State history.

In order to reach the historical statewide average of 65 percent, Democrats would have the unfathomable task of netting seven seats.

Pennsylvania U.S. House Seats Carried by Party of Winning Gubernatorial Candidate, 1832-2010

Cycle Winning candidate Party US House seats Total Seats % Seats
1832 George Wolf Democrat 14 28 50.0
1838 David Porter Democrat 17 28 60.7
1844 Francis Shunk Democrat 12 24 50.0
1848 William Johnston Whig 13 24 54.2
1854 James Pollock Whig 16* 24 66.7
1860 Andrew Curtin Republican 19 25 76.0
1866 John Geary Republican 18 24 75.0
1872 John Hartranft Republican 22 27 81.5
1878 Henry Hoyt Republican 17 27 63.0
1882 Robert Pattison Democrat 12 28 42.9
1886 James Beaver Republican 20 28 71.4
1890 Robert Pattison Democrat 10 28 35.7
1894 Daniel Hastings Republican 28 30 93.3
1898 William Stone Republican 20 30 66.7
1902 Samuel Pennypacker Republican 28 32 87.5
1906 Edwin Stuart Republican 25 32 78.1
1910 J.K. Tener Republican 23 32 71.9
1914 Martin Brumbaugh Republican 30 36 83.3
1918 William Sprout Republican 29 36 80.6
1922 Gifford Pinchot Republican 30 36 83.3
1926 John Fisher Republican 34 36 94.4
1930 Gifford Pinchot Republican 33 36 91.7
1934 George Earle Democrat 23 34 67.6
1938 Arthur James Republican 19 34 55.9
1942 Edward Martin Republican 19 33 57.6
1946 Jim Duff Republican 28 33 84.8
1950 John Fine Republican 20 33 60.6
1954 George Leader Democrat 14 30 46.7
1958 David Lawrence Democrat 16 30 53.3
1962 William Scranton Republican 14 27 51.9
1966 Raymond Shafer Republican 13 27 48.1
1970 Milton Shapp Democrat 14 27 51.9
1974 Milton Shapp Democrat 14 25 56.0
1978 Dick Thornburgh Republican 15 25 40.0
1982 Dick Thornburgh Republican 13 23 43.5
1986 Bob Casey, Sr. Democrat 12 23 52.2
1990 Bob Casey, Sr. Democrat 11 23 47.8
1994 Tom Ridge Republican 10 21 47.6
1998 Tom Ridge Republican 10 21 47.6
2002 Ed Rendell Democrat 7 19 36.8
2006 Ed Rendell Democrat 11 19 57.9
2010 Tom Corbett Republican 12 19 63.2

* Includes coalition of Opposition, Whig, and Republican U.S. Representatives. Table compiled by Smart Politics.

Smart Politics is a non-partisan political news site authored and founded in 2006 by Dr. Eric Ostermeier, a Research Associate at the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance (CSPG) at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs. If you have any questions about Smart Politics please contact the author.

Originally posted here. Republished with permission.

10 Responses

  1. How many innocents are going to be offered up by the DNC in their efforts to win the 8th District? No one, with the exception of unions, knows who Strouse is and most do not care to find out.

  2. McCord as Gov and Strouse in the 8th Dist are the best candidates the Democratic party has seen in years, however, if people don’t contribute to their campaigns, the Republicans will win. Corbett and Fitz are raising substantial amounts of money the past few months because their party is concerned that indeed McCord and Strouse can win. What are democrats doing?

  3. @Saul and @smarter-

    Early polls are pretty meaningless, but pollsters need to pay for Christmas presents so they feed hungry politicos empty calories.

    When Sestak announced against Specter, Arlen was something like 30 points ahead in the polls. Then Sestak spent a few million getting his name out and attacking Specter.

    Until there are $$$ and TV ads (along with literature and debates), the people polled are far too uninformed about the candidates (let along subtle policy differences) to produce meaningful poll results.

  4. @smarter

    Regardless of what you think or believe, the early polls still show that Schwartz is the early favorite. So this reporter’s analysis is accurate and fair.

    You clearly have a favorite horse in this race that isn’t Schwartz. Criticizing a college student for an interesting analysis of a race that is still a year away is pathetic and makes me question what you so called Democrats stand for.

  5. Everything is so gerrymandered, it’s going to be tough flipping any seats.

    The 8th is always a tempting prize, and tantalizingly close.

    The 6th is also a target, but pretty hopeless unless Gerlach leaves to run for higher office or gets caught up in some tawdry, career-ending scandal. Not holding my breath for either.

    The 7th is out of reach until the next redistricting can give us a fair balance.

  6. @better call saul

    Early polls are early polls, and I think that assuming that anyone is a “favorite” this early on is foolish. Also, for all of the state west of West Chester, PA, including the huge number of moderate Democrats in Allegheny County, if there is to be a favorite down the road among statewide democrats, someone who ran an abortion clinic is not likely to be that person. So if by favorite you mean right now among super liberals in SEPA, sure.

  7. @smarter

    I would make the conclusion that because every poll is showing Schwartz as the top vote-getter among Democratic Primary voters, that she is indeed the favorite.

  8. I would support a pro-LGBT, pro-choice Republican in my district if Leach won. I hope for Naughton and McClelland victories otherwise.

    “Politics Is Serious Business, We Need A Congressperson, Not A Clown”
    -Liberals Against Leach (

  9. The correct historical data does not sustain the speculation. Just like historical performance does not guaranty the same rate of success in the stock market.

  10. I applaud the effort, but this is a terrible analysis, and full of subjectivity. Schwartz is “the early favorite?” Favorite to who? This reads like a college student wrote it..

    ..oh wait.

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