The political landscape may have evolved quite a bit since we last took a look at the Keystone State’s competitive U.S. House races in August 2019, but our list of most vulnerable lawmakers in the Pennsylvania delegation has changed only modestly.
In PoliticsPA’s latest congressional vulnerability rankings – the sixth cycle in which we’ve made these rankings – we find three districts that are clearly vulnerable to a party takeover, up from two last August. In addition to Republicans Scott Perry and Brian Fitzpatrick, we are now boosting Democrat Matt Cartwright into the “vulnerable” category.
Three more House members find themselves in the “potentially vulnerable category” – Democrats Susan Wild and Conor Lamb and Republican Mike Kelly.
As always, we rank the districts in descending order, from most vulnerable to less vulnerable. Here’s the list.
1st – 10th District: Rep. Scott Perry (R) (Previous: 1st)
Geography: Harrisburg and York
Democrats are enthusiastic about their chances of ousting Perry, a four-term House member who won by less than 3 points in 2018. The Democrats’ leading candidate is state auditor general Eugene DePasquale, although DePasquale must first get past a primary challenge from political newcomer Tom Brier, a 28-year-old attorney who’s running as an outsider. DePasquale is a proven winner statewide; in fact, when he won his office in 2016, he won the current district even as Donald Trump was winning both the district and the state. Through the end of December, Perry had almost $622,000 on hand; that’s more than DePasquale’s $468,000, but observers expect the Democrat to have enough to be competitive, especially in a media market that isn’t too expensive.
2nd – 8th District: Rep. Matt Cartwright (D) (Previous: 3rd, tie)
Geography: Scranton-Wilkes Barre
Despite failures in previous cycles, Republicans have high hopes for ousting Cartwright, who represents a district that supported Trump in 2016 by nine points. There’s no shortage of GOP candidates for 2020, and some of them could become credible challengers if they win the nomination. The Republican field includes Jim Bognet, a former Trump administration official and former aide to former Sen. Rick Santorum and former Rep. Lou Barletta; Mike Cammisa, a recent graduate of the George H.W. Bush School of Government and Public Service; Teddy Daniels, a security executive who was awarded a Purple Heart for Army service in Afghanistan; Earl Granville, an Army veteran and amputee from his service in Afghanistan; Harry Haas, a teacher and Luzerne County Council member; and Mike Marsicano, a former Hazleton mayor and former Democrat. Granville is the nominal establishment favorite, having won the endorsement of House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. Whoever emerges from the GOP primary will likely target Cartwright’s votes in favor of impeachment, though it’s unclear how resonant that attack will be by November. Cartwright also had more than $1.2 million in the bank at the end of December, far more than any of his rivals. And the delay in the primary from April 28 to June 2 could draw out the intra-party sniping and drain the eventual nominee’s war chest. Even so, Cartwright should end up with a real race this year, especially with Trump at the top of the ballot.
3rd – 1st District: Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R) (Previous: 2nd)
Geography: Bucks County
Fitzpatrick may be one of the luckiest members of Congress. In 2018, he was one of just three Republicans nationally to survive in a House district won by Hillary Clinton, thanks in large part to a weak Democratic challenger, Scott Wallace. For 2020, the Democrats have not scored a recruiting coup on the scale of DePasquale. In fact, the early frontrunner, Pennsbury School Board member Debbie Wachspress, dropped out after allegations emerged that she had used homophobic and racist language. (She denied the claims.) Wachspress endorsed Ivyland Borough Councilwoman Christina Finello, a former senior official in the Bucks County Department of Housing and Human Services. Finello has the support of key party officials in the primary, where she faces Skylar Hurwitz, a Bernie Sanders supporter and tech company owner. Fitzpatrick has a record of relative independence among House Republicans, and he’s won the endorsement of the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund. He also has a big lead in cash on hand, with more than $1.4 million in the bank. That said, the Philadelphia area, like many metro areas, has been trending Democratic, and the Democrats made big gains in Bucks County local elections last November. Having Trump atop the ballot this fall is probably a net negative for Fitzpatrick in this district.
4th – 7th District: Rep. Susan Wild (D) (Previous: 3rd, tie)
Geography: Lehigh Valley
Wild won an open seat in this competitive district in 2018, and the GOP isn’t letting her slide in 2020. The apparent establishment favorite is Lisa Scheller, a businesswoman and Lehigh County Commission chair, but she must first get past former Lehigh County commissioner Dean Browning in the GOP primary. (Former congressional candidate Matt Connolly had been running, but he dropped out and endorsed Browning.) This is another district where the delay in the primary date may hurt Republicans. Financially, Wild is outpacing her GOP opponents, with more than $1 million in the bank at the end of December, but Scheller is expected to have enough to run a credible race if she wins the primary. The contest should be competitive, but Wild starts with the edge.
5th – 17th District: Rep. Conor Lamb (D) (Previous: 6th)
Geography: Pittsburgh environs, including parts of Allegheny and Beaver counties
Lamb gained national attention by winning a strongly Republican district in southwestern Pennsylvania in a 2018 special election, then by ousting Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus in November in a redrawn district that was more favorable to the Democrats. In 2020, the GOP frontrunner is former Army Ranger and author Sean Parnell, a frequent Fox News guest. (He announced his candidacy on “Fox & Friends” and has Trump’s backing.) This pedigree may not be overly helpful in this marginal, blue-trending district, and Joe Biden’s victory in the Democratic presidential primary saves Lamb from having to distance himself from Bernie Sanders, a self-described Democratic socialist, at the top of the ticket. Lamb had just shy of $1 million in cash on hand at the end of December, more than four times what Parnell had.
6th –16th District: Rep. Mike Kelly (R) (Previous: 5th)
Geography: Erie and environs
In a surprisingly competitive race in 2018, Kelly held off Democrat Ron DiNicola by about 4 points even though Trump won the district in 2016 by 20 points. Kelly has a history of controversial comments and could be vulnerable. The Democrats have not snagged a top-tier challenger to take him on, but the apparent frontrunner for the nomination, teacher and cancer survivor Kristy Gnibus, could have some appeal, and the Erie media market is cheap enough that a small investment could boost her prospects if she shows promise. Kelly reported $884,000 on hand at the end of December.
7th – 11th District: Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R) (Previous: 7th)
Geography: Lancaster and environs
Smucker reported having just $474,000 in the bank at the end of December, which isn’t much for an incumbent. But this is a heavily Trump district, and the Democrats haven’t found a challenger yet. Unless they do, Smucker will be well on his way to another term.