PoliticsPA’s Congressional Vulnerability Rankings: Post-Primary Edition

uscapitol-washingtondc-picture1Nine months ago, when PoliticsPA last took a comprehensive look at which of Pennsylvania’s congressional seats are vulnerable to a party switch, we lamented the weak state of inter-party competition for U.S. House seats.

Today, in some ways, the degree of competitiveness in the Pennsylvania congressional landscape has receded even further. A stunning seven out of 18 congressional districts in the state don’t even have candidates from both major parties running in the fall. For these seats, the primary has already determined who will win in November.

Back in the halcyon days of Keystone State competitiveness – 2010, when we published our inaugural rankings – we found no fewer than 10 races to be plausibly competitive. Today, by contrast, just one seat, the 8th District being vacated by Republican Mike Fitzpatrick, is genuinely vulnerable to a party switch.

Four other seats are potentially, but only dimly, competitive at this point. But there’s one big caveat — the possibility that a GOP ticket headed by Donald Trump could produce a drag in downballot elections that, at least in theory, could bring some Pennsylvania districts back into a state of competitiveness.

Here’s our rundown. The current partisan breakdown in the delegation is 13 Republican seats and five Democratic seats. As always, contests are listed in descending order of the likelihood of a party switch in the general election.


8th District: Open seat (GOP Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick is retiring)

Now that the primary is over, we finally know the identities of the nominees in this district – a marquee House race nationally that includes Bucks County and portions of Montgomery County. On the GOP side, Brian Fitzpatrick – the incumbent’s younger brother, an FBI agent – easily won a three-way primary. On the Democratic side, state Rep. Steve Santarsiero defeated second-time hopeful Shaughnessy Naughton in the primary by a 60 percent-40 percent margin. This has always been considered a competitive open seat – it leans ever so slightly Republican – and especially so in a presidential year, when Democratic turnout tends to be stronger than in midterm years. Most observers consider this a tossup contest.


6th District: GOP Rep. Ryan Costello

The slightly Republican-leaning district – which spans portions of Montgomery, Chester, Berks, and Lebanon counties – is one of several on this list that ought to be competitive for the Democrats but have become somewhat less so.

Costello, the former chair of the Chester County Board of Commissioners, succeeded former GOP Rep. Jim Gerlach in 2014. The district was a perennial target for Democrats during and after Gerlach’s tenure.

But while Democratic hopeful Lindy Li brought noteworthy fundraising totals to the race – more than $300,000 in cash on hand at the end of the first quarter – she quit the race after her primary opponent, Mike Parrish, challenged her petitions. Parrish, by contrast, ended the first quarter with less than $16,000 in the bank – a pittance compared to Costello’s $1.2 million on hand, which he can use to compete in the pricey Philadelphia media market. To be a genuinely competitive seat in November probably requires Parrish to surf a big anti-Republican wave in the general.

7th District: GOP Rep. Pat Meehan

GOP strategists were gleeful after the primary when it became clear that a star Democratic prospect – pastor Bill Golderer, who had received a fundraising boost from key national Democrats – had lost the primary by an outlandish 74 percent-26 percent margin. The primary winner was the 2014 Democratic nominee, Mary Ellen Balchunis, who ended up losing to Meehan by 24 points. The problem facing Balchunis this time around is much the same as the one facing Parrish in the 6th: Despite running in competitive territory, Balchunis has just $17,721 in the bank to fund a campaign in an expensive media market, while Meehan, the incumbent, can dip into a $2.5 million warchest.

16th District: Open seat (GOP Rep. Joe Pitts is retiring)

This Lancaster-based district is competitive on paper – in 2012, Mitt Romney won it with just 52 percent, and in 2008, Barack Obama carried it by a fraction of a point. In the Republican primary, State Sen. Lloyd Smucker defeated businessman Chet Beiler, and he now has to be considered the favorite in the general. But at least Democrats will have a candidate in place in the event the bottom falls out for Republicans in the fall. The Democrat is Christina Hartman, a former official with two human-rights organizations, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House. Among the longer-shot Democratic congressional candidates in Pennsylvania this cycle, Hartman has the most money in the bank — $126,988.

15th District: GOP Rep. Charlie Dent

Democrats have long salivated over this Lehigh Valley district, which voted for Obama in 2008 by more than five points before narrowly backing Romney in 2012. But thanks to a combination of Democratic recruiting failures and the consistent moderation of Republican incumbent Charlie Dent, the seat has remained solidly in GOP hands. This time the Democratic candidate is Lehigh County Democratic chair Richard Daugherty, who lost to Dent by 14 points in 2012. (Dent didn’t even attract a Democratic opponent in 2014.) In recent months, Dent has carefully buffed his moderate profile, endorsing John Kasich in the GOP primary, and Daugherty’s reported cash on hand is laughably small at just $222. (With $1.2 million, Dent’s warchest is more than 5,000 times bigger than his rival’s.) Still, Daugherty gives the Democrats a warm body in a swing district in case of a Democratic landslide.


A few other seats are not considered competitive for a party switch but are worth a brief mention because they will at least have have inter-party competition, unlike so many other seats in the state this year.

Two of these are the northeastern Pennsylvania-based 11th District held by GOP Rep. Lou

Barletta and the southwestern Pennsylvania-based 12th District held by GOP Rep. Keith Rothfus. Both districts have a notable GOP tilt.

Barletta faces Democrat Michael Marsicano, his predecessor as mayor of Hazelton, who has $99,289 on hand. Barletta has $323,903.

Rothfus, meanwhile, faces a rematch with 2014 Democratic nominee Erin McClelland, who has $25,058 in the bank to Rothfus’ $1,118,040.

There’s a big and fundamental difference between these Democratic challengers and the slightly more plausible challengers like those in the districts held by Meehan, Pitts and Dent. Democrats running in the potentially competitive GOP-held seats in southeastern Pennsylvania could gain from Trump on top of the ballot, whereas Barletta and Rothfus could be the ones to gain with Trump.

Barletta rose to prominence on his opposition to illegal immigration – one of Trump’s key issues – while Rothfus’ district includes many of the working-class voters who form the core of Trump’s base.

27 Responses

  1. Fitzpatrick in the 8th? No chance. He avoided public meetings with the other guys, and now they have no choice but to parade him around the district (with a map so he doesn’t get lost)
    “Santa” man will chew him up on his inside deals with bro. Can you say Hatch act too?
    (Attention all Rep: no one believes his bro didn’t help him…they are related you know)

  2. The lack of competition, due to gerrymandering, is very sad. We need more people to step up and replace some of theae bums!! And we need to be more just in drawing these districts next time!! It really is a shame.

  3. watchin the 11th…for the mayor’s seat of Hazleton. Congress is going to be more competitive with Lou’s old tricks exposed.

  4. Fitz is the only close House race – even with Trump on the ticket – and he still wins

  5. Williams is gonna be in orange jump suit soon. He is broke and thinks my boys are gonna help him. Idiot.

  6. Pat Unger-

    You don’t know if any of the candidates asked Seth for endorsement or not.

    You only know that he didn’t endorse anyone.

    Maybe they didn’t want to pay his “fee”.
    $10,000 to endorse their opponent 🙂

  7. Ha3 – Did you notice that there was not one candidate that asked the elected DA of Philadelphia for his endorsement?

    In 2011, DA Williams endorsed Murphy for AG. Williams endorsed a pathetic loser friend of his for Common Pleas Court recently too.

    But not one of the Democrats running for AG in 2016 wanted Seth Williams’ endorsement ..? … Wonder why …. ….. …………..

    Maybe they know that the G-Men are coming for Seth soon.

  8. Here’s a PPA quote from Seth Williams’ new campaign manager/money guy:

    “It has been the greatest honor of my professional life to work for the Republican Party of Pennsylvania under Chairman Gleason and I am both humbled and excited to continue working to elect qualified Republican candidates in my new role. I have inherited a great core staff of professionals and I know that together our team will execute Chairman Gleason’s vision to win elections and expand the reach of the Republican Party in our Commonwealth.”

    He didn’t mention helping Democrats in Philadelphia!! Wonder why ….

    Oh wait … that quote is from BEFORE Seth Williams hired Barley’s Corbett Pals. You know – the ones that used their Government computers on racist, woman-hating e-mails. I guess Seth Williams got the FULL SUPPORT of the Republicans when he hired Fina & The Corbett pervs.

    He is going to need it too. Because he has no real friends in Philadelphia. Nobody likes or respects him. No Democrat is going to support him. In fact – it seems like Frank Fina and the Levant family are the only friends Seth Williams has left (beyond the Corbett Republicans running his PAC in Harrisburg).

    He got his ass kicked in the ring on Saturday night. Won’t be long til it gets kicked at the ballot box … assuming he does not get indicted first.

  9. “Brian Fitzpatrick hired Union lobbyists, Long and Nyquist, as his campaign consultants. These opportunistic Political Profiteers pretend to be Republicans while representing Democratic special interests. Long & Nyquist are, also, campaign consultants to Republican AG candidate John Rafferty.” Interesting!!

    Long & Nyquist employs Mike Barley. For some reason, his Bio does not include his work for Democrat Seth Williams.

    This is from their web-site —

    Mike is regarded as one of the top political strategists in the Commonwealth and has been involved in countless races at the statewide, congressional, legislative and county level over the past decade.

    Prior to joining Long, Nyquist & Associates, Barley served as Campaign Manager and key political strategist to Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and Lt. Governor Jim Cawley.

    Prior to that role, Barley served as Executive Director of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania from 2011-2013. In that role, Barley was instrumental in helping the GOP expand their Congressional majority, maintain their state legislative majorities, pick-up statewide judicial seats and gain control of 53 out of the 67 county courthouses. Before serving as Executive Director, Barley served as Communications and Technology Director for the Republican Party of Pennsylvania and helped draft and execute strategies that helped elect six out of seven statewide judges in 2009 and to deliver historic Republican victories in 2010.

    And here’s the article about his work as Seth Williams’ campaign manager —


  10. Barbara Blum

    If it’s any consolation, Sestak supported fracking, despite his campaign remarks against it.

    Joe had previously stated that he wanted the U.S. to be Europe’s gas station. Joe’s geo-political-military world view is ALL about power and leverage. Joe wants all the oil/gas to free us from mid-east influence, and have us influence Europe with our fossil fuels.

    Joe is simply lying about his opposition to fracking.

  11. If the miserable Democratic Party had not wasted 4 million dollars on McGinty campaign there could have been plenty to help our Congressional candidates, including Mary Ellen. Hate the fact I have to vote for that inadequate, fracking believer, because Toomey is very bad. I hope that voters see him for the Cruz type who smiles and acts pleasant, while pushing for the worst legislation that has come from the Senate Republicans. Actually, no legislation, because he blocks as much as he is told to block, along with the Supreme Court nominee getting a hearing.

  12. A second-try Democrat, Kerith Strano Taylor, is challenging Rep. Glenn Thompson in the gerrymandered 5th District. If Clinton has any long coattails, she could win. Long shot, however.

  13. In 2007, Mr. Marsicano tried a comeback, but Mr. Barletta beat him in the Democratic primary and went on to win a third term. That’s right, Mr. Barletta, on the ballot only as a Republican, easily won his party’s nomination, but also won the Democratic nomination with more than 1,000 write-in votes to fewer than 750 for Mr. Marsicano, who was on the Democratic ballot.

  14. To summarize the relevant parts:

    In four semi-competitive PA Congressional seats:

    Dems have $151k on hand, $127k of it with one candidate.

    GOP has at least $4.9M on hand.

  15. Not only is Brian Fitzpatrick being investigated for violating the Hatch Act, Brian Fitzpatrick hired Union lobbyists, Long and Nyquist, as his campaign consultants. These opportunistic Political Profiteers pretend to be Republicans while representing Democratic special interests. Long & Nyquist are, also, campaign consultants to Republican AG candidate John Rafferty.

  16. Dem campaign advertising:

    Trump-Meehan 2016
    Trump-Fitzpatrick 2016
    Trump-Dent 2016

    … you get the idea

  17. SEPA Dem-

    There are 65,000 more R’s in the district.

    Mary Ellen needs to raise money and raise hell !

  18. The PA-7th is a R+2 district. The district gets more and more Democratic every day. Meehan designed this district into the worst gerrymandered district in the Commonwealth – to have as many Republicans in it as possible and this was the best he could do. This year is going to be a Democratic year and even Meehan is endangered. Mary Ellen needs to raise a lot more money, which I think she can do. If she has enough to be competitive, the Hillary wave could pick her up and win the 7th.

  19. Don’t discount the 11th based on money. Louis a do nothing Congressman with no record, trying to ride the Trump Train to re-election. Marsicano was a great mayor. No crime, no drugs, no gangs and no murders on his watch. He has the backbone needed to get things done inCongress.

  20. Gus From Delco-

    A guy with 10 times as much money who gets beat by 50 points never was a viable candidate to begin with.

  21. Louis — You guys keep forgetting to report on the Penn State 3 case. Why is that?

    It’s a huge case. In PA and even nationally. The prosecutor who handled the case is also a figure in the Kane saga. His name is Frank Fina. You may have heard of him.

    The Superior Court threw out most of Fina’s charges against the Penn State 3 and, in so doing, found that Fina’s conduct was “highly improper.”

    Another high-profile individual, Bruce Castor, just helped the OAG decide against appealing the Superior Court’s ruling.

    Why no articles here?

  22. Since Pat Meehan wiped the floor with the hair plugged toadie of Moncto Commissioner Lil’ Joey Gale last week, Mary Ellen Balchunis’ only chance of getting to Congress is via the Visitors Center.

  23. Erin McClelland has as much chance of being elected to Congress in November as Mark Adala.

  24. Rothfus doesn’t gain from Trump. McClelland’s got the unions, and people are gonna get sick of Rothfus’s lyin’ Ted crud.

  25. Nick Field has a better chance of winning a Pulitzer than Democrats have of winning the 15th or 16th.

Comments are closed.

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