As the 2020 campaign nears its conclusion, we’re ready to offer our final congressional vulnerability rankings for Pennsylvania.
Since we last published rankings on Sept . 28, we’ve decided to keep Republican Rep. Scott Perry in the most vulnerable spot on our list. However, there’s now a new No. 2: GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick. Meanwhile, amid growing confidence of a strong Election Night for Democrats, we’re moving two Democratic incumbents – Reps. Conor Lamb and Matt Cartwright – down from the “vulnerable” category to the “potentially vulnerable” category. We’re also slightly raising the vulnerability of GOP Rep. Mike Kelly.
This is the sixth election cycle in which PoliticsPA has made these lists, which run in descending order from the most vulnerable to a party switch to the least vulnerable. Districts in Pennsylvania that are not cited here are not considered vulnerable.
Here’s the list:
1st – 10th District: Rep. Scott Perry (R) (No change)
Geography: Harrisburg and York
Perry is a four-term House member and Iraq War veteran who won by less than 3 points in 2018. He faces a prize Democratic recruit, state auditor general Eugene DePasquale, who won the current district in his auditor race even as Donald Trump was carrying it in 2016. The most recent fundraising figures show DePasquale outraising Perry overall this cycle, but the Democrat has also spent more, leaving Perry with a cash-on-hand edge in mid-October of nearly $1 million to $377,000. Two polls from October have been made public: A Republican poll that found Perry up by four points, and Democratic poll that had DePasquale up by six. This indicates a margin-of-error race going into Election Day.
2nd – 1st District: Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R) (Shift from 3rd)
Geography: Bucks County
Fitzpatrick, a rare Republican with support from organized labor, faces Ivyland Borough Democratic Councilwoman Christina Finello. After some improvement for Fitzpatrick over the summer, the reality of Joe Biden’s strength in the metro Philadelphia area is sinking in, leading us to bump this district higher on our list. While Finello remains far less known in the district than Fitzpatrick, who succeeded his brother Mike in the congressional seat, she’s made up some ground in fundraising, reporting $524,000 in cash on hand in mid-October. That’s less than Fitzpatrick’s $889,000, but a better position than she’d been in earlier this year. The only two recent public polls, from October, were conducted by Democratic firms. One shows Fitzpatrick up by two points, while another shows Finello with a one-point edge. This suggests a small lead for Fitzpatrick, but given high Democratic enthusiasm, his survival is no longer as certain as it was.
3rd (tie) – 17th District: Rep. Conor Lamb (D) (Shift from 4th and from Vulnerable)
Geography: Pittsburgh environs, including parts of Allegheny and Beaver counties
Lamb, a Marine Corps veteran, won a strongly Republican district in southwestern Pennsylvania in a 2018 special election, then ousted Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus in November in a different district that was more favorable to the Democrats. He faces former Army Ranger and author Sean Parnell, whose national exposure on Fox News and from in-person endorsements by Trump has made him a successful fundraiser among GOP challengers this year. Even so, Lamb’s cash on hand in mid-October was still almost twice as large as what Parnell had. Like Trump, Parnell is trying to leverage Democratic opposition to fossil fuels, though Lamb has tried to put distance between him and the left of his party. No recent polls have been made public in the district, but we are not hearing cries of panic from Democrats about Lamb’s fate.
3rd (tie) – 8th District: Rep. Matt Cartwright (D) (Shift from 2nd and from Vulnerable)
Geography: Scranton-Wilkes Barre
This blue-collar district supported Trump in 2016 by nine points, but Cartwright seems to have improved his position in recent weeks. After a divisive GOP primary, Jim Bognet, a former Trump administration official and onetime aide to former Sen. Rick Santorum and former Rep. Lou Barletta, won the nomination with just 28%. Cartwright reported almost triple the cash on hand in mid-October as Bognet did, and the only poll made public in recent weeks had Cartwright up by five points – and that was released by a Republican pollster, so the incumbent’s margin is likely even bigger. The main splash Bognet has made was his odd decision to air a TV ad thousands of miles away in Portland, Ore., the site of unrest over police brutality. The GOP nominee urged Oregonians to relocate to northeast Pennsylvania, closing the spot with a bleeped profanity. With Biden, a Scranton native, providing a bit of extra lift for Cartwright, we’re dropping this contest from the “vulnerable” to the “potentially vulnerable” category.
5th – 7th District: Rep. Susan Wild (D) (No change)
Geography: Lehigh Valley
Wild, who won an open seat in this competitive district in 2018, faces Lisa Scheller, a businesswoman and Lehigh County Commission chair who narrowly won the GOP primary. Scheller is a conservative who runs a family manufacturing business; she’s also a former heroin addict who’s been in recovery for almost four decades. Two nonpartisan pollsters have released surveys in October, and both showed Wild with a decent cushion over Scheller. Muhlenberg College had Wild up by 13 points, while Franklin & Marshall College had the incumbent up by seven points.
6th –16th District: Rep. Mike Kelly (R) (Shift from Minimally Vulnerable)
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, but the Democrats have an untested nominee in teacher and cancer survivor Kristy Gnibus. Gnibus’ campaign remains grossly underfunded against a long-serving incumbent. That said, we’re moving it up from “minimally vulnerable” to “potentially vulnerable” due to the possibility that Biden may outperform Hillary Clinton in the district and provide a bit of updraft for Gnibus.
7th – 11th District: Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R) (No change)
Geography: Lancaster and environs
Smucker faces field hockey coach Sarah Hammond, who has just $7,000 in the bank and is coming off losses for state House in 2018 and state Senate in 2019. She’s also advocating single-payer health care, the Green New Deal, and student loan forgiveness, left-leaning policies that will be an extremely hard sell in a heavily Trump district.