PoliticsPA’s 2018 Congressional Vulnerability Ranking, April Update

A lot has changed since last Oct. 30, when we published our last Pennsylvania congressional vulnerability ranking.

Actually, saying it was “a lot” of change is an enormous understatement.

The GOP’s midterm outlook in the Keystone State, already under stress from the growing likelihood of a Democratic wave in the fall, took a body blow earlier this year when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court voided the existing, Republican-tilted congressional district map. Due to a combination of these factors, endangered Republican incumbents announced their retirements.

The incumbents who held the two most vulnerable seats in our October rankings – Ryan Costello and Pat Meehan — have since decided against seeking another term, making their seats even more vulnerable for the GOP. They joined other Republican incumbents who had previously announced their departures, including Charlie Dent (our previous No. 4 most vulnerable seat) and Tim Murphy (our previous No. 7).

Previously, our list included nine seats; now it has expanded to 10. And the scope political shift has wreaked havoc with our previous rankings.

In October, we placed the top five seats on our list in the “vulnerable” category. Now, we rate the top four seats in the even more unstable “highly vulnerable” category. An additional three are classified in the “vulnerable” category.

Our current list rivals the ones we assembled in 2010 and 2012, when between 10 and 12 seats were in danger of being flipped. And there are far more competitive contests than we saw in 2014 and 2016

As always in our ratings, the districts are ranked in descending order, from most vulnerable to less vulnerable. We only consider seats that are vulnerable to a party switch in the general election, not to losses by an incumbent to a primary rival.

Here’s the list as it stands now:


1. 5th District: R-held open seat (Meehan)

Geography: Delaware County

Republican Rep. Pat Meehan, first elected in 2010, already faced a tough path to reelection when he was driven to retire amid allegations of sexual harassment brought by a former staffer. Then, Meehan’s district, already tilting to the Democrats, became a virtual lock to flip control this year under the new lines – Hillary Clinton would have won it by 28 points in 2016. The Democratic primary is almost certain to determine the winner in the fall. But the field is wide open and, with more than a dozen candidates, nearly impossible to handicap at this point; it could end up being a “friends and family” contest where small differences in turnout produce a winner with just a small percentage of the overall vote. The contenders include (in alphabetical order) attorney George Badey, former CIA official Shelly Chauncey, state Rep. Margo Davidson, state Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland, former Philadelphia deputy mayor Rich Lazer, former federal prosecutor Ashley Lunkenheimer, activist Lindy Li, attorney Dan Muroff, and state Rep. Greg Vitali — among others. Republicans are resting their diminished hopes in the district on former prosecutor Pearl Kim.

2. 6th District: R-held open seat (Costello)

Geography: Chester County and Reading

The district that Costello and, before him, fellow Republican Jim Gerlach held during the past decade was fiercely contested turf between the two parties. But the new district lines increased Clinton’s performance in 2016 from a one-point victory to a 10-point edge. Costello saw the writing on the wall and decided to bow out. Democrats were already optimistic about their candidate — Chrissy Houlahan, a Stanford- and MIT-educated Air Force veteran and businesswoman with a strong fundraising record. Republicans have been attacking Houlahan for her history of foreign outsourcing, but with Costello’s exit, they are left with Greg McCauley, an untested former Wendy’s franchise owner who has not yet reported any money raised.

3. 14th District: D-held open seat (Lamb)

Geography: Southwestern environs of Pittsburgh

This is a rarity in Pennsylvania this year – a vulnerable Democratic seat. But there’s an asterisk. Democrat Conor Lamb defeated Republican Rick Saccone in a closely watched special election, in a district that had supported Donald Trump in 2016 by 20 points. But the new map opened up a friendlier district to the north for Lamb, so he’ll be competing there later this year instead. The district Lamb is giving up is even more strongly pro-Trump than it had been before the redrawing, so the Republicans start as a strong favorite. Saccone is running again, as is the candidate he defeated at the special election nominating convention, state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, a former judge and Navy veteran. The Democrats have several candidates, including one in whom party officials see some promise — Bibiana Boerio, a former senior automobile executive and an aide to then-Rep. Joe Sestak. But any Democrat will start as a heavy underdog in this district.

4. 7th District: R-held open seat (Dent)

Geography: Lehigh Valley

Dent is another vulnerable Pennsylvania Republican who decided to retire rather than fight for reelection in 2018. The district previously gave Trump an eight-point win, but under the new lines, it would have given Clinton a one-point win. The Democratic primary includes Northampton County district attorney John Morganelli, former Allentown solicitor Susan Wild, and pastor Greg Edwards, among others. Morganelli is best known in the district from his long tenure as a prosecutor; despite some liberal stances, his strong position against illegal immigration could pose problems in the Democratic primary. Democrats acknowledge that the two Republican candidates vying in the primary are credible: Lehigh County Commission chair and Olympic cyclist Marty Nothstein, and former Lehigh County commissioner and businessman Dean Browning. Bottom line: This should be a competitive contest in the fall.


5. 17th District: Rep. Keith Rothfus (R)

Geography: Pittsburgh environs, including parts of Allegheny and Beaver counties

This is the seat Lamb decided to seek. It’s a bit of a tougher lift than the three Democratic-opportunity seats above — both because Lamb needs to defeat an incumbent, and because the district, even under the more favorable lines, would have backed Trump by two points in 2016. But Lamb received major attention in the Pittsburgh media market during his special election bid, and even with the district’s narrow Trump lean, it is still much more evenly divided than the one Rothfus has been representing. While Lamb is the likely nominee, he won’t have an entirely clear shot — he faces a challenge from his left by Ray Linsenmayer.

6. 1st District: Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R)

Geography: Bucks County

Fitzpatrick succeeded his brother Mike in 2016, and his seat was going to be vulnerable under any circumstances in this swingy district. Redistricting didn’t change the political lean dramatically, but what changes were made marginally helped the Democrats. Moreover, the Democrats won several county row offices in late 2017 for the first time in decades, a sign of energy for the party. The Democrats do have a competitive primary; it features Navy veteran Rachel Reddick, philanthropist Scott Wallace and activist Steve Bacher. Republicans are hoping to tag Reddick and Wallace, the two frontrunners for the nomination, as carpetbaggers, while highlighting Fitzpatrick’s unwillingness to go along with his party on repealing Obamacare. Complicating Fitzpatrick’s path is a primary challenge from the right by Trump-aligned veteran and attorney Dean Malik.

7. 8th District: Rep. Matt Cartwright (D)

Geography: Scranton-Wilkes Barre

With the exception of the district Lamb is leaving behind, Cartwright’s is the sole Democratic vulnerability in Pennsylvania this year. In his old district, Cartwright won reelection despite seeing it shift from a 12-point Obama win in 2012 to a 10-point Trump victory four years later. Under the redrawn lines, the district continues to pose a challenge for the incumbent, but it shifts geographically toward Scranton – Cartwright’s base, where he was a well-known attorney before running for Congress. The GOP continues to be high on primary frontrunner John Chrin, who has served as a managing director at J.P. Morgan Chase and has been sinking significant personal funds into his campaign. Were it not for the likelihood of a Democratic wave this year, this seat would rank higher on our list – and could be at greater risk in a less favorable year for the Democrats.


8. 10th District: Rep. Scott Perry (R)

Geography: Harrisburg and York

The district, a new addition to our list, moved towards the Democrats due to the remap, from a 22-point Trump win to a nine-point Trump victory. So on paper, Perry, a staunch conservative, should be in some danger. But the Democratic field just lost its most prominent candidate – Christina Hartman, who had challenged GOP Rep. Lloyd Smucker in 2016. The remaining field includes epidemiologist Eric Ding, Army veteran and pastor George Scott, former Senate and Obama aide Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson. Democrats hope that a wave and the fact that the district is in a relatively cheap television market could make this a sleeper race.

9. 16th District: Mike Kelly (R)

Geography: Erie and environs

This seat is new to our list, thanks to redistricting, which shaved a few points off Trump’s margin in the district, although it still leans pretty heavily Republican. Democrats are hopeful that Ron DiNicola – a longtime figure in the district who was a Marine boxer and lost narrowly (several maps ago) in a 1996 House contest – will be positioned to ride a Democratic wave this fall.


10. 9th District: R-held open seat (Barletta)

Geography: Schuylkill County and environs

Barletta is running for Senate, and we had included this seat as our eighth-ranking of nine seats on our list last October. The Democrats’ prospects are now weaker than they were last fall, however, thanks to line changes that made the already solidly Trump district a bit more so. Whoever wins the Republican primary – a battle between Schuylkill County Commission chair George Halcovage, former state revenue secretary Dan Meuser, and former CIA official Scott Uehlinger – is the odds-on favorite to win in November. Still, we’re keeping this on our list because of the Democratic candidacy by Dennis Wolff, a dairy farmer and former state secretary of agriculture who’s considered a credible candidate, despite the difficult partisan terrain.


11th District: Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R)

12th District: Rep. Tom Marino (R)

Both of these seats were on our previous list, but are no longer competitive due to changes in district lines that favored the GOP incumbents.


2nd District: Rep. Brendan Boyle (D)

3rd District: Rep. Dwight Evans (D)

4th District: D-held open seat (Brady)

13th District: R-held open seat (Shuster)

15th District: Rep. Glenn Thompson (R)

18th District: Rep. Mike Doyle (D)

27 Responses

  1. Why is this comment neccesary, or even relevant: “But the Democratic field just lost its most prominent candidate – Christina Hartman, who had challenged GOP Rep. Lloyd Smucker in 2016.”

    She was a carpetbagger who came to the 10th District when the district lines were redrawn, making the 10th and Scott Perry a better chance target than a rematch with Smucker. Pure politician, backed by the NDCC, but not be the people of the 10th District.

    Hasn’t the national Democratic party learned its lesson yet? They buried Joe Sestak – called influential PA Dems, told them not to support him, that if they did, there would be a price; all because he challenged Arlen Specter in 2010. If the national party had stayed out of it, Sestak would have been the nominee (McGinty got 7% of the vote in her only other statewide run) and he might have beaten Toomey. Instead, we’ve got that Club for Growth puppet for 4-1/2 more years.

    RealClearPolitics has moved the 10th District to “toss-up” status, and that’s before the Democrats even have a nominee. Anyone who watched any of the 10th District candidate forums knows that Hartman was even the best candidate, just the most well-funded, and backed by national party. But, when you see them in person, George Scott clearly stands out from the others. That was true EVEN BEFORE Hartman withdrew.

  2. 116th congress for 2018 Congressional Members
    District 1: Brian Eischelberger (R)*
    District 2: Brendon Muroff (D)
    District 3: Dwight Doyle(D)*
    District 4: Brian Hoffel (D)*
    District 5: Dan Perry (D)*
    District 6: Conor Smucker (D)*
    District 7: Scott Houlahaun (D)*
    District 8: John Evans (D)*
    District 9: Lloyd Kelly (R)*
    District 10: Rick “Big Dick” Saccone (R)*
    District 11: Mike Thompson (R)*
    District 12: Tom Reschenthaler (R)*
    District 13: Glenn Eischelberger (R)*
    District 14: Pam Ivey (R)*
    District 15: Guy Fitzpatrick (R)*
    District 16: Mike Cartwright (R)*
    District 17: Dwight Boyle (D)*
    District 18: Zakrey Bissell (D)* by write-in

  3. unsure what this means:

    “4th District: D-held open seat (Brady)” [not vulnerable]

    This is the new MontCo Seat.

  4. Lying George ! That’s what we call him, LG for short. Perfect for Congress. Will fit right in

  5. George Halcovage ? Take a walk through Pottsville and see what is said of him. Natural born liar, lot of bad tidings in the court house.anybody but him. Please. Then we get him out of courthouse

  6. 116th congress for 2018 Congressional Members
    District 1: Brian Fitzpatrick (R)*
    District 2: Brendon Boyle (D)*
    District 3: Dwight Evans (D)*
    District 4: Joe Hoffel (D)*
    District 5: Dan Muroff (D)*
    District 6: Christy Houlahaun (D)*
    District 7: John Morganelli (D)*
    District 8: Matt Cartwright (D)*
    District 9: Dan Mueser (R)*
    District 10: Scott Perry (R)*
    District 11: Lloyd Smucker (R)*
    District 12: Tom Marino (R)*
    District 13: John Eischelberger (R)*
    District 14: Guy Reschenthaler (R)*
    District 15: Glenn Thompson (R)*
    District 16: Mike Kelly (R)*
    District 17: Conor Lamb (D)*
    District 18: Mike Doyle (D)*

    1. Not so sure about Fitzpatrick or Lamb. Rothfus won’t be easy to defeat. Much more formidable than Saccone but it is a better CD for Lamb. Outside shot at 10 for the D’s. Other than that, looks about right except not certain the candidate for 5.

    2. 9th is wrong. Meuser is a Hillary donor who doesn’t even live in the district. Won’t survive the primary.

      1. Last I checked, Trump donated to Hillary. US Constitution says Meuser can run if he lives in district or lives 1-2 miles out or lives anywhere at all in PA. Constitution matters, unless you are a lib. Last few days George is in Texas and Scott U is on mars usually. Meuser wins and wins big. Or in HRC Trump king, bigly.

        1. Decent attempt at spin, but doesn’t change the fact he gives money to Hillary and lives outside the district.

          1. Hey Jon – I looked back through all of Meuser’s FEC records. I saw no Hillary contributions and only one contribution to a Democratic member of congress two decades ago. But he’s been very supportive of the Party as well as Republican Candidates nationwide.

            Honestly, the most questionable contribution I see is to Rick Santorum, that guy is just a joke.

            Which contributions are you referring to?

    3. cong_dist D/R ratio
      1 1.03
      2 4.33
      3 11.92
      4 1.23
      5 1.4
      6 1.01
      7 1.31
      8 1.44
      9 0.75
      10 0.85
      11 0.56
      12 0.55
      13 0.54
      14 1.16
      15 0.7
      16 0.96
      17 1.35
      18 2.79

  7. Republican-titlted hardly begins to describe the voter cheating scam perpetrated by GOP for years/\.

    1. I guess we trade one scam in for another. I don’t remember the judiciary having the power to create legislative districts.

      1. That’s what happens when the legislative branch chooses to abdicate its responsibility and/or produce maps which it knows will not pass legal muster.

  8. Interesting that this evaluation on the new 8th District omits the fact that the designated GOP favorite lived and voted in New Jersey until recently, when he moved his voting residence to the Lehigh Valley which is no longer in or even near the 8th District’s boundaries. Besides having an inexperienced, self-funding, carpetbagging, big bucks Wall Streeter, why do Republicans think he will be a good fit for the people of Northeastern PA?

    1. Honestly, he’s a better candidate than the dolt they had been running against Cartwright. Matt Connolly couldn’t even get a bump from the presidential race because he’s so incompetent. Didn’t raise any money and his actual strategy was to hope that some people would vote for him because they thought he was the other Matt C. He was fully backed by the GOP. Carpetbagger sounds pretty good.

  9. Can you please site your sources for saying that the Lamb district is even MORE pro-Trump after the election?? I am in that district and can tell you even in the wards that went red, they did so to remain REPUBLICAN not TRUMP.

    1. Just a guess, but he’s probably going off the precinct-level 2016 presidential vote.

  10. The new 4th district is in Montgomery county. Brady is in the new 3rd District in Philadelphia. The new 4th has a 5/4 Dem advantage.

  11. You forgot Mary Gay Scanlon in the 5th. This website is often a mess, which is a real shame. A good political website is sorely needed in PA. Take some lessons from Jon Ralston’s Nevada Independent.

  • Will Doug Mastriano Run For U.S. Senate?

    • No. Not Enough Support From Mainstream GOP. (91%)
    • Yes. Let Doug Be Doug. (9%)

    Total Voters: 892

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