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PoliticsPA’s 2018 Congressional Vulnerability Ranking, October Update

It’s been a busy few months for the Pennsylvania congressional delegation. Among other things, GOP Rep. Tim Murphy resigned amid a scandal, and GOP Rep. Charlie Dent, facing pressure from his right, announced that he wouldn’t run for reelection.

So we’ll take this opportunity to update our congressional vulnerability rankings for the Pennsylvania delegation.

When we last looked at the state pf play in late July, we placed four Republican-held seats in the “vulnerable” category. Now, we rate five GOP-held seats as “vulnerable.”  

Previously, we had one Democratic-held seat rated “potentially vulnerable.” Now, we have not only that Democratic seat but also two Republican-held seats in that category.

Finally, we have also added a new, GOP-held seat that wasn’t on our previous list to the “minimally vulnerable” category.

That’s nine seats on our list, making 2018 a big year on the campaign trail for the state delegation. The current list is not quite as long as the ones in 2010 and 2012, when between 10 and 12 seats were in danger of being flipped. But there are far more competitive contests than we saw in 2014 and 2016. Indeed, the degree of vulnerability could rise if a pro-Democratic wave develops. (And our ratings doesn’t include the contested U.S. Senate race against incumbent Democrat Bob Casey.)

As always in our ratings, the districts below 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.

We have sorted the districts into three categories — “vulnerable,” “potentially vulnerable” and “minimally vulnerable.” (If a partisan takeover of a given seat begins to look inevitable, we may create a “highly vulnerable” category, but no seat right now meets the criteria.) Any seats not listed below are not currently considered vulnerable at all.

For each district, we’ve included data for past presidential election results, median income, and college-level attainment. The data is drawn from the Almanac of American Politics 2018, of which the author of this article is a senior author.

Here’s the list as it stands now:


1. 6th District: Rep. Ryan Costello (R)

2012: Romney, 51-48

2016: Clinton, 48-47

Median income: Ranks 52nd of 435 congressional districts

College degree or higher: 42 percent

Geography: A portion of the Philadelphia suburbs and Reading

Democrat Chrissy Houlahan, a Stanford- and MIT-educated Air Force veteran and businesswoman, continues to raise money at a healthy clip in her bid against Costello in this historically competitive district. Through September, she had more than $660,000 in the bank – less than Costello’s nearly $1.2 million, but not bad for a challenger. Houlahan’s campaign says that 91 percent of her fundraising haul has come from individual contributions, a positive sign. Defeating an incumbent is always difficult, but Houlahan’s outsider profile could work well if the mood turns against incumbents.

2. 7th District: Rep. Pat Meehan (R)

2012: Romney, 50-49

2016: Clinton, 49-47

Median income: Ranks 33rd of 435 congressional districts

College degree or higher: 42 percent

Geography: Delaware County, Philadelphia suburbs

Meehan, first elected in 2010, has been considered a solid lawmaker and has $2.5 million in the bank, but that hasn’t scared off an array of Democratic challengers, each hoping that the district’s affluent and educated electorate is ready to punish a GOP lawmaker to strike a blow against President Donald Trump. State Sen. Daylin Leach is the best-known contender and is popular among the party’s progressive state. However, two other candidates – attorney Dan Muroff and biomedical researcher Molly Sheehan – have similarly sized war chests to Leach’s.

3. 8th District: Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R)

2012: Romney, 49-49

2016: Trump, 48-48

Median income: Ranked 44th of 435 congressional districts

College degree or higher: 37 percent

Geography: Bucks County

Historically, this district has been prime swing territory, and the reason it wasn’t ranked higher than third in our last rating was that the Democrats had no candidate against Fitzpatrick, who succeeded his brother Mike Fitzpatrick by winning an eight-point victory in 2016. Now that there is a Democratic candidate, this seat could rise in future ratings, even though Fitzpatrick has almost $1 million in the bank. The Democratic candidate is former Naval JAG officer and reservist Rachel Reddick, who has also worked as a legal advocate for domestic abuse victims in Bucks County. She may not end up being the only Democratic contender, either. Complicating matters for Fitzpatrick is that he may face a primary from his right by Trump-aligned veteran and former prosecutor Dean Malik. Malik has especially targeted Fitzpatrick’s vote against repealing the Affordable Care Act; in that vote, Fitzpatrick was joined by Costello and Meehan, as well as by Rep. Charlie Dent. If Malik manages to defeat Fitzpatrick in a primary, this could become a significant Democratic target.

4. 15th District: Open, Rep. Charlie Dent (R) is retiring. (Shift from Potentially Vulnerable)

2012: Romney, 51-48

2016: Trump, 51-44

Median income: Ranks 156th of 435 congressional districts

College degree or higher: 28 percent

Geography: Lehigh Valley

This district leapfrogged up our list from “minimally vulnerable” to “vulnerable” after the moderate, affable Dent decided not to run for reelection. He did so amid pressure from his right, particularly from three-term GOP state Rep. Justin Simmons, who accused the incumbent of being insufficiently loyal to Trump. With the seat now coming open, the GOP field has widened and now includes not just Simmons but also fellow GOP state Rep. Ryan Mackenzie and Lehigh County Commissioner and Olympic cycling medalist Marty Nothstein. There’s one Democratic contender so far, former Coplay mayor and school board member Bill Leiner, who had already been looking at a run before Dent announced his intention to retire. Our friend John Micek of PennLive has cited a few more Democratic candidates in the wings, including Chip Collica, Greg Edwards, Laura Quick and Susan Wild.

5. 16th District: Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R)

2012: Romney, 52-46

2016: Trump, 50-44

Median income: Ranks 192nd out of 435 congressional districts

College degree or higher: 25 percent

Geography: Lancaster and environs

This has been a relatively quiet race recently. Smucker is a freshman representing a historically Republican district that has trended somewhat toward the Democrats. Democrat Christina Hartman, who lost to Smucker by 11 points in 2016, is officially in the race, though she faces some less well-known competition. Smucker has much less in the bank — $236,000 – than the state’s other endangered GOP incumbents do. Still, this remains a contest that will primarily attract national Democratic attention if a broad wave develops.


6. 17th District: Rep. Matt Cartwright (D)

2012: Obama, 55-43

2016: Trump, 53-43

Median income: Ranks 275th out of 435 congressional districts

College degree or higher: 21 percent

Geography: Portions of Wilkes-Barre, Scranton and Easton

Cartwright remains the only House Democrat in Pennsylvania who looks vulnerable in 2018. The 17th District margin in the presidential race shifted from a 12-point Obama win in 2012 to a 10-point Trump victory four years later. Republicans are high on John Chrin, who has served as a managing director at J.P. Morgan Chase. Chrin was showcased as an “on the radar” candidate by the National Republican Congressional Committee, and he’s squirreled away $623,000 in the bank, about half the amount the incumbent has. This contest has the potential to rise on our list, although any Democratic wave that develops should keep Cartwright safer.

7. 18th district: vacant, Rep. Tim Murphy (R) resigned. (Shift from Minimally Vulnerable)

2012: Romney, 58-41

2016: Trump, 58-38

Median income: Ranks 140th of 435 congressional districts

College degree or higher: 34 percent

Geography: Southwestern Pennsylvania

Murphy’s sudden exit amid a scandal has teed up a special election in March, and while the region has trended heavily Republican in recent years – something we’ve explored extensively here – the contest bears watching for two reasons. One is that strange things can happen in special elections. The other is that local Democrats are taking the contest seriously. The GOP field, according to PennLive, includes state senator and former Navy prosecutor Guy Reschenthaler; state Rep. Rick Saccone; state senator and former Westmoreland County Commissioner Kim Ward; and state Rep. Jason Ortitay. Somewhat surprisingly, the Democrats also have a strongly credentialed field: Westmoreland County Commissioner Gina Cerilli; Michael Crossey, the former head of the influential Pennsylvania State Education Association and a former Allegheny County commissioner; Pam Iovino, a former assistant secretary of congressional affairs for the federal Department of Veterans Affairs; Conor Lamb, a former federal prosecutor and Marine veteran; and emergency room physician Bob Solomon. Democrats acknowledge this district will still be a heavy lift, but it’s not as hopeless as a run against pre-scandal Murphy would have been.

8. 11th District: Open, Rep. Lou Barletta (R) is running for U.S. Senate. (This seat was not previously on our list)

2012: Romney, 54-45

2016: Trump, 60-36

Median income: Ranks 225th of 435 congressional districts

College degree or higher: 22.8 percent

Geography: Hazleton and environs

Barletta, who became a national voice for immigration restrictions, is vacating his seat to run for Senate. The district tilted heavily toward Trump in 2016, leading several Republicans to seek the seat. The most prominent is probably Dan Meuser, the state revenue secretary under then-GOP Gov. Tom Corbett. He already has $275,000 in the bank, and the National Republican Congressional Committee has named him an “on the radar” candidate. Other Republicans include state Rep. Stephen Bloom, construction contractor Andrew Lewis, and Berwick Borough Council member Andrew Shecktor. Former federal prosecutor Joe Peters is also a potential Republican candidate. The Democrats have fewer options, but party officials are high on Dennis Wolff, a dairy farmer and former state secretary of agriculture. Veteran and political activist Alan Howe is also in the Democratic race. The political patterns of the district make this a longshot for Democrats, but with a wave and the right candidate, it could be worth watching.


9. 10th District: Rep. Tom Marino (R) (This seat was not previously on our list)

2012: Romney, 60-39

2016: Trump, 66-30

Median income: Ranks 252nd of 435 congressional districts

College degree or higher: 20.4 percent

Geography: Williamsport, East Stroudsburg, environs of Scranton

This district is new to our list, mainly because Marino’s future is somewhat up in the air. He had been Trump’s pick to serve as drug czar, but he had to withdraw after it was revealed that he had been deeply involved with legislation that appeared to hamper federal efforts to combat opioid abuse. For now, he’s planning to run again, and the district is so strongly Republican that Democrats aren’t especially optimistic. But the seat worth keeping in on our watch list in case something changes.

We’ll update our ratings periodically as the election cycle progresses.

10 Responses

  1. PA6, 7, 8, and 15 are all easily conceivable, but likely depend heavily on recruitment. I could see 16, but it seems like a long-shot, though definitely worth serious consideration. Given the shifts we have seen, the national momentum, the fact that 2018 will be a referendum on Trump, Democrats certainly have the momentum, enthusiasm, and the wind at their backs.

    If Republicans fail to get their massive tax cut for the rich through, they might not even have Koch money to rely on this year (the Kochs having announced the $400 million they plan to spend in ’18 being predicated on Republicans’ success in repealing the Affordable Care Act and passing tax cuts). Given that it is polling worse than even the Republican President right now and the National Association of Home Builders went from pledging to support it to pledging to use those same funds to oppose it, that would be no small feat either.

    Netting four seats would get PA’s congressional delegation more in line with PA’s voters, but netting five would be more appropriate, given the nearly one million more votes for Democratic candidates than Republicans. If we were to see that, it would almost surely be part of a national wave returning control of the House to Democrats who would actually hold the Republican President accountable instead of ignoring his many corrupt acts in favor of re-hashing ancient investigations of his defeated opponent and pursuing ridiculous conspiracy theories.

    If Republicans retain control, I am sure it is only a matter of time before we see another investigation into the death of Vince Foster instead of looking at the conflicts of interest of over half of the President’s appointees, the emoluments and foreign investments by his company, the pay for access, the Banking Secrecy Act violations and the apparent Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations, etc. etc..

  2. This is a joke. Houlahan has everyone fooled but is really a paper candidate. Once the slinging starts she will fall easily. Lindy Li would have been a much stronger opponent.

  3. All GOP should be vulnerable if the indictments keep dropping and the guilty pleas mount up.

    1. “[Attacks on The Donald are] but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing….False face must hide what the false heart doth know.”

      Shakespeare: Macbeth: Act 5, Scene 5, Page 2 [updated]


    2. Thank God for Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. They are gifts that keep giving to Trump and the Republicans. God bless, Donna Brazile.

  4. So the Zapp-allah’s crime family candidate, Rothfus the dummy is invincible? Yeah, that’s what ME-first-lissa Hart thought too.

  5. Another Republican has announced in PA-8: Valerie Mihalik; Dean will be appearing @ the Thursday meeting of Tea Party Patriots [7 a.m., Middletown Township Bldg.] and it is anticipated that she will be invited to the December meeting.

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