Congressional Vulnerability in PA

Over the past three months, the congressional landscape in Pennsylvania hasn’t changed dramatically. Three races — the ones involving Democratic Reps. Susan Wild and Matt Cartwright and the open seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb — remain as competitive as they’ve been all cycle. And the other races have, if anything, become less so.

Here, for the first time since July, we are updating our list of most vulnerable House seats in the Pennsylvania congressional delegation. This is the seventh consecutive election cycle that PoliticsPA has been assembling this list, based on reporting with state and national analysts. 

As is usually the case in midterm elections, the party controlling the White House faces significant electoral headwinds, helping explain why the three most vulnerable seats this cycle are all held by Democrats. What remains to be seen is whether energized abortion rights supporters can help even the playing field for Democratic candidates, and whether the Republicans’ nomination of controversial state Sen. Doug Mastriano for governor will negatively affect his party’s prospects elsewhere on the ballot. 

As usual, we have rank-ordered the seats in descending order, from the most vulnerable to a party switch to the least vulnerable. We have placed seven congressional races into one three categories: “highly vulnerable” to a party switch, “vulnerable” to a party switch, and “potentially vulnerable” to a party switch. Districts not cited here are not considered vulnerable to a switch.

Compared to our initial handicapping in July, we have made only modest adjustments, only one of which involved a change of category: We’ve lowered Democratic Rep. Chrissy Houlahan’s status from “vulnerable” to “potentially vulnerable” and dropped her ranking on our list from 4th to 5th. 

Meanwhile, within the “potentially vulnerable” category, we’ve slightly increased the vulnerability of the open seat being vacated by Rep. Mike Doyle (D) and the seat held by Republican Rep. Scott Perry, while decreasing the vulnerability of the seat held by Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick.

All in all, however, such changes are on the margins, in seats that do not seem especially likely to flip control. As was the case in July, most of the skirmishing will concern the top three seats on our list, which retain the same 1-2-3 order we posited in July.

Here is the full district-by-district rundown of the 7 seats with at least some degree of vulnerability this year.

 

HIGHLY VULNERABLE

1. 7th District

Incumbent: Rep. Susan Wild (D)

Republican nominee: Lisa Scheller

Geography: Lehigh Valley: Primarily Lehigh and Northampton counties

PVI (Cook Political Report with Amy Walter): R+2

Trump 2020: 49%

Biden 2020: 50%

Wild’s rematch with Scheller has lived up to the expectation that it would be a close contest: An Oct. 19 Muhlenberg College poll found Wild nursing a within-the-margin-of-error, 47%-46% lead. Scheller is a businesswoman and former Lehigh County Commission chair; she’s also a former heroin addict who’s been in recovery for almost four decades. In 2020, Wild won reelection, 52%-48%, but this time, Scheller will benefit from a slightly more favorable map, due to redistricting, as well as being a member of the out-party during a midterm election, and thus able to leverage dissatisfaction with President Joe Biden. Through Sept. 30, Wild had about three times as much cash on hand as Scheller did. Democrats continue to hammer Scheller for her company’s history of outsourcing jobs at her company, including to China. Wild has talked up the bipartisan infrastructure bill, saying it would benefit the local cement industry. Scheller, meanwhile, has defended her position on abortion from Democratic attacks, saying she favors exceptions for rape, incest or when the mother’s health is at risk. 

 

2. 8th District

Incumbent: Rep. Matt Cartwright (D)

Republican nominee: Jim Bognet

Geography: Northeastern Pennsylvania: Primarily Lackawanna, Luzerne, and Monroe counties

PVI (Cook Political Report with Amy Walter): R+4

Trump 2020: 51%

Biden 2020: 48%

Like Wild, Cartwright faces a rematch in 2022: The incumbent, who was first elected to the House in 2012, is taking on Bognet, whom he defeated in 2020, 52%-48%. Bognet is a former Trump administration official and onetime aide to former Sen. Rick Santorum and former Rep. Lou Barletta. Trump would have won this district under its new lines (even though Biden hails from Scranton), but Cartwright is well known locally and has carved out an identity of his own. Bognet has improved his cash-on-hand position over the past few months; Cartwright once had about five times as much as Bognet did, but now the ratio is roughly a 2-to-1 edge for Cartwright. The polling in the race should be taken with a grain of salt, since it consists of internal candidate polls. A mid-September Cartwright poll showed the incumbent leading by eight points, while a Bognet internal from a week earlier found the race even. This might suggest a slight Cartwright lead, but not necessarily a solid one. 

 

3. 17th District

Open seat being vacated by Rep. Conor Lamb (D)

Democratic nominee: Chris Deluzio

Republican nominee: Jeremy Shaffer

Geography: Northern suburbs of Pittsburgh: Allegheny and Beaver counties

PVI (Cook Political Report with Amy Walter): Even

Trump 2020: 47%

Biden 2020: 52%

Lamb vacated this highly competitive district when he decided to run (unsuccessfully) in the Democratic primary for an open U.S. Senate seat. Deluzio, the Democratic nominee, is an Iraq War veteran and voting rights lawyer. He has close ties to labor unions, drawing on his experience organizing a faculty union at the University of Pittsburgh. Shaffer, the GOP nominee, is a software company founder and former Ross town commissioner. Shaffer has sought a middle ground on abortion, telling Jewish Insider that he personally opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother but would not vote for federal restrictions. Shaffer has maintained a fundraising edge since the primary concluded; he leads Deluzio in cash on hand, $963,000 to $548,000. A Democratic poll found Deluzio leading by eight points, but the race is likely much closer.

 

VULNERABLE

No Races

 

POTENTIALLY VULNERABLE

4. 12th District

Shift from 5th place ranking

Open seat being vacated by Rep. Mike Doyle (D)

Democratic nominee: Summer Lee

Republican nominee: Mike Doyle (no relation)

Geography: Pittsburgh

PVI (Cook Political Report with Amy Walter): D+8

Trump 2020: 40%

Biden 2020: 59%

After the top three races this cycle, the degree of vulnerability drops notably. This Democratic district only ranks this high due to an odd confluence of events. The biggest is that the Republican nominee — Mike Doyle, a Plum Borough council member — has the same name as the long-serving Democratic incumbent, creating the possibility that voters will be confused. Democrats engaged in canvassing have cited some examples of this confusion, and the retiring congressman has gone on a mini-media tour to raise awareness on the issue. Complicating matters for the Democrats, the nominee, Summer Lee, only narrowly won the primary and hails from the party’s most progressive wing, having received the backing of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren. It’s unclear whether a contingent of moderate Democrats will be unenthusiastic enough about Lee to vote for the Republican instead. Lee has raised more than $1.2 million, but much of that was spent in the primary, leaving her with just $184,000 on hand through Sept. 30; in a large media market, that’s not very much. However, the Republican Doyle has even less on hand, $53,000. The Democrats should win this district in the end, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

 

5. 6th District

Shift from 4th place ranking and shift from “vulnerable”

Incumbent: Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D)

Republican nominee: Guy Ciarrocchi

Geography: Southeastern suburbs: Chester and Berks counties

PVI (Cook Political Report with Amy Walter): D+5

Trump 2020: 42%

Biden 2020: 57%

Houlahan, an Air Force veteran and businesswoman first elected in 2018, represents a substantially more Democratic-leaning district than fellow incumbents Wild and Cartwright, and this race has failed to develop into a top-tier target. Houlahan faces Ciarrocchi, a former Chester County Chamber of Business and Industry president and a onetime lieutenant gubernatorial aide. Houlahan has only increased her cash-on-hand edge as the cycle has progressed; she now reports almost $5.8 million to Ciarrocchi’s $142,000, which is considered insufficient for running a genuine contest in the expensive southeastern Pennsylvania media market. If the bottom truly falls out for Democrats this year, this seat could be at risk, but for now, we’re dropping this race one category in our rankings. 

 

6. 10th District

Shift from 7th place rating

Incumbent: Scott Perry (R)

Democratic nominee: Shamaine Daniels

Geography: Harrisburg and environs: Dauphin, Cumberland, and York counties

PVI (Cook Political Report with Amy Walter): R+5

Trump 2020: 51%

Biden 2020: 47%

Perry’s hard-line conservatism — he chairs the House Freedom Caucus and has drawn scrutiny for his actions related to Jan. 6, 2021 — belies that his district is one of the more competitive in Pennsylvania, at least on paper. Trump won it by only five points in 2020, and Perry won reelection by a relatively modest 53%-47% margin against a strong Democratic nominee, former state auditor Eugene DePasquale. Daniels, the Democratic nominee, has a profile locally from her service as a Harrisburg City council member and as an attorney. Perry has had to grapple with the FBI’s seizure of his cell phone — “I’m not a target of the investigation,” Perry countered at a debate — as well as his attempts to defy a subpoena by the House Jan. 6 committee. Perry countered that Daniels has an anti-law enforcement record, pointing to her council vote against purchasing riot equipment for Harrisburg police officers. Perry has more than 7 times the amount of cash on hand as Daniels does. An early August poll conducted for Daniels had her up by 3 points, but experts highly doubt that will be where the race ends up on Election Day. 

 

7. 1st District

Shift from 6th place rating

Incumbent: Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R)

Democratic nominee: Ashley Ehasz

Geography: Philadelphia suburbs: Bucks County

PVI (Cook Political Report with Amy Walter): Even

Trump 2020: 47%

Biden 2020: 52%

Once again in 2022, Democrats do not appear to have made this Biden-won district genuinely competitive in the congressional context, a result of Fitzpatrick’s centrist positioning on many issues and his well-established local brand, having followed his brother Mike into the House. Ehasz is a government affairs consultant and Iraq War veteran, but she has just $177,000 on hand for the home stretch in the expensive Philadelphia media market, putting her far behind Fitzpatrick, who has $1.2 million. A Republican-sponsored poll in early September had Fitzpatrick up by 20 points, and while he may not win by quite that much, he still remains a heavy favorite for reelection.

3 Responses

  1. Like many Democrats this election cycle, Ashley Ehasz went all in on the abortion issue. I have not seen independent polling for this race, but judging from her CoH the strategy doesn’t seem to be working in PA-01. Maybe that will change when Ehasz pushes the abortion issue in their upcoming debate. Considering she has no TV ads running, it’s her last best chance to capture the narrative to persuade younger voters to come out on 11/8.

  2. Fitzpatrick is the biggest slimeball. I’ve seen municipal / landscaping companies cutting grass on busy intersections, removing all other signs, but leaving the fitzpatrick ones.

    1. Base on your comment, it seems to me like his politics speak to the working class and yours don’t. Maybe you and your party should pick issues other than (1) creating worse inflation; (2) shutting down pipelines and drilling to increase the cost of gas for – get this – small businesses like those mowing the lawn; (3) dividing the country by race, gender, and creed; (4) crying racism every time an outcome occurs you don’t like; (5) supporting child mutilation; (6) caring more about pronouns than paychecks; (7) caring more about teachers unions than children; and (8) being over-educated, over-paid, white saviors. Then, perhaps, the working class may start listening to you again. Until then, lolol.

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