PoliticsPA’s 2018 Congressional Vulnerability Ranking, September Update
As the political indicators grow more ominous for the Republican congressional minority nationally, we’re sensing a slight improvement in Democratic chances to flip U.S. House seats in Pennsylvania.
In our latest periodic ranking of most vulnerable seats in the state’s congressional delegation – our first since June 11 – no fewer than five Republican-held seats rate as “highly vulnerable” and four others rate as “vulnerable.” By contrast, Democrats have one “highly vulnerable” seat and one “vulnerable” seat.
In our current ratings, we’ve bucked three Republican incumbents up a notch in vulnerability. Keith Rothfus moves from “vulnerable” to “highly vulnerable,” while both Scott Perry and Mike Kelly move from “potentially vulnerable” to “vulnerable.”
As always, we rank the districts in descending order, from most vulnerable to less vulnerable.
Here’s the list as it stands now. We’ll update it as Election Day approaches.
1. 5th District: R-held open seat (Patrick Meehan)
Geography: Delaware County
This race has been quieter than most competitive seats in Pennsylvania, perhaps because both parties agree that it’s almost certain to switch partisan control in 2018. Hillary Clinton would have won the district by 28 points, and the seat became open following the allegations of sexual harassment against Meehan – and the lines were redrawn to the Democrats’ benefit by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Democratic nominee Mary Gay Scanlon, an education advocate, actually trailed her Republican opponent, former prosecutor Pearl Kim, in cash on hand at the end of the second quarter. But we expect Scanlon, a successful fundraiser during the primary, to reverse that pattern when the third-quarter numbers are released in a few weeks.
2. 6th District: R-held open seat (Ryan Costello)
Geography: Chester County and Reading
This race has also been quiet in recent months, as Chrissy Houlahan, a Stanford- and MIT-educated Air Force veteran and businesswoman, remains a formidable frontrunner against Greg McCauley, a former Wendy’s franchise owner. This open Republican-held district supported Clinton by 10 points. When we published our previous rankings, Houlahan was outraising McCauley by a 38-to-1 margin; since then, her advantage has grown to 55-to-1.
3. 14th District: D-held open seat (Conor Lamb)
Geography: Southwestern environs of Pittsburgh
As with the previous two districts, this contest has been fairly quiet in recent months. It’s a rarity in Pennsylvania this year – a vulnerable Democratic-held district, thanks to incumbent Democrat Conor Lamb’s decision to vacate it to run for a friendlier seat further north. State Sen. Guy Reschenthaler, a former judge and Navy veteran, won the Republican nomination, while Bibiana Boerio, a former senior automobile executive and an aide to then-Rep. Joe Sestak, is the Democratic nominee. Democrats like Boerio, but the district would have supported Donald Trump in 2016 by 20 points, so it’s a steep climb even with a Democratic wave.
4. 7th District: R-held open seat (Charlie Dent)
Geography: Lehigh Valley
Former Allentown solicitor Susan Wild, the Democratic nominee, was narrowly ahead of Lehigh County Commission chair and Olympic cyclist Marty Nothstein, the Republican nominee, in a recent Monmouth poll, either by two points or six points, depending on the turnout model used. The district would have given Clinton a one-point win in 2016. But at the end of the second quarter, Wild had four times as much cash on hand as Nothstein, and the Monmouth poll found Trump modestly under water in the district. While this remains a competitive race, Wild is a modest favorite.
5. 17th District: Rep. Keith Rothfus (R) (Shift from Vulnerable)
Geography: Pittsburgh environs, including parts of Allegheny and Beaver counties
This contest – between Lamb and the district’s Republican incumbent, Rothfus — remains in the fifth spot on our list, but it moves up a notch from “vulnerable” to “highly vulnerable.” A Monmouth poll from July had Lamb up by double digits in various turnout scenarios, and it found Trump seven points under water in the district, despite backing Trump by two points in 2016. Lamb, already well-known in the Pittsburgh media market during his special election bid, had roughly as much cash on hand as Rothfus according to the second quarter reports — an impressive feat for a challenger. In an ominous sign for Rothfus, the National Republican Congressional Committee – the House Republicans’ campaign arm — canceled four weeks of ad spending , although America First Action, a Pro-Trump PAC, has invested in the race instead. If the trend lines for this race continue, it could end up higher on this list.
6. 1st District: Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R)
Geography: Bucks County
This is a rare Democratic pickup opportunity that looks more challenging than it did a few months ago. Republicans are taking advantage of Democratic challenger Scott Wallace’s background, including allegations of a $70,000 tax lien and controversial actions by the Wallace Global Fund, a family foundation he led. But Wallace is able to self-fund, and the district is narrowly divided, so it should remain competitive.
7. 8th District: Rep. Matt Cartwright (D)
Geography: Scranton-Wilkes Barre
Republicans are optimistic that self-funding challenger John Chrin, a former managing director at J.P. Morgan Chase, will make a serious run at Cartwright in this Trump-friendly district. The fact that the incumbent agreed to a series of debates with Chrin suggests that, at the very least, Cartwright is not taking the race for granted. Cartwright, an attorney well-known in the Scranton portion of the redrawn district, is trying to spotlight Chrin’s Wall Street background, while Chrin is seeking to tie Cartwright to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. In a Democratic wave election, it’s hard not to bet on a Democratic incumbent, but this race bears continued watching.
8. 10th District: Rep. Scott Perry (R) (Shift from No. 9) (Shift from Potentially Vulnerable)
Geography: Harrisburg and York
Trump won this district by nine points, but Democrats are increasingly high on the Democratic nominee, pastor George Scott. The Democrat is probably trailing Perry, a staunch conservative, but he appears to have crept within striking distance. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the House Democrats’ campaign arm, added Scott to its “Red to Blue” list of competitive takeover targets, and the district’s relatively cheap television market makes it attractive for Democratic investment. We’re moving this race up a notch on our list, and also shifting it from “potentially vulnerable” to “vulnerable.”
9. 16th District: Rep. Mike Kelly (R) (Shift from No. 8) (Shift from Potentially Vulnerable)
Geography: Erie and environs
Democrats are also enthusiastic about this district, and while we’ve dropped it a notch on our list, we’re still moving it up from “potentially vulnerable” to “vulnerable.” Democratic nominee Ron DiNicola is familiar in the district as a Marine boxer and narrow loser (several maps ago) in a 1996 U.S. House contest. In Kelly, he’s facing a long-serving incumbent representing a Republican-leaning district, but Kelly wants a series of debates, which suggests he understands the degree of danger he’s in. If incumbent Republicans across the country continue to look imperiled, Kelly could be one of those to go down.
No races currently in this category
10. 9th District: R-held open seat (Barletta)
Geography: Schuylkill County and environs
Neither party appears to be paying much attention to this district, which is solidly pro-Trump. But Democratic nominee Dennis Wolff is a surprisingly strong candidate for the district – he’s a well-liked dairy farmer and a former state secretary of agriculture – and at the end of the second quarter, he actually had a bit more cash on hand than the GOP nominee, former state revenue secretary Dan Meuser. We’d be surprised if Wolff pulls this out, but it’s not an impossible task, so we’re leaving this contest on our list for now.
2nd District: Rep. Brendan Boyle (D)
3rd District: Rep. Dwight Evans (D)
4th District: D-held open seat (Brady)
11th District: Rep. Lloyd Smucker (R)
12th District: Rep. Tom Marino (R)
13th District: R-held open seat (Shuster)
15th District: Rep. Glenn Thompson (R)
18th District: Rep. Mike Doyle (D)