The Path Iovino Needs For Victory
Off year Primary Elections are notorious for having the lowest voter turn-out of any ordinary election cycle. But, Special Elections during off year cycles that don’t coincide with either Primary or General Election races, as is the face-off between Democratic candidate Pam Iovino and Republican nominee D. Raja in the 37th PA Senate District (37th PA SD), are generally off the charts low in that regard.
Consider the two most recent Special Elections for that very seat. Voter turn-out in 2015 was a mere 29 percent and in 2003 it was only 19 percent. The irony of this is that, in a low turn-out scenario when most voters stay home, a good candidate with an attractive message and a serious program to identify supporters, persuade leaning voters and turn them out on Election Day, may actually have an advantage, that would otherwise not exist with higher voter turn-out. In a district that has stubbornly refused to elect Democrats, as has been the 37th PA SD, this is considerable cause for hope.
That said, the current ultra-partisan charged political atmosphere reared its head about a year ago in a Special Election to fill the vacant seat in the then 18th PA Congressional District (18th PA CD). Many of the municipalities that are situated in the 37th PA SD were also present in the old 18th PA CD. Voter turn-out in those municipalities was an astronomical 49 percent, propelling Democrat Conor Lamb to an unlikely victory against Republican Rick Saccone. Lamb received 56 percent of the vote in that part of the district, providing the margin that contributed to his, otherwise, razor thin win.
While the Democrats made serious inroads into closing the gap with Republicans in the PA Senate last year, and the ultimate test as to whether or not they can take control of that Chamber will run through those seats that are currently held by moderate Republican Senators in the counties surrounding Philadelphia, the even closer victory of Senator Lyndsey Williams in the neighboring, and equally inhospitable, 38th PA Senate District last year also shows that it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the Democrats can also win seats in the western part of the Commonwealth, including the 37th PA SD.
But, what about the 37th PA SD itself? On the face of things, Democrats, having only prevailed in this district once since at least 1992, and then having held the seat for a mere three years, this should be viewed as nothing less than an uphill fight against tremendous odds. In the last contest, in 2016, the Democratic candidate received a mere 39 percent of the vote. In 2012, the only time that the Democrats have won in recent history, Matt Smith received 52 percent of the vote, within the margin of error and, notably, against the current Republican nominee, D. Raja. In 2008, 2004 and 2000, the Democratic candidates garnered a mere 34 percent, 32 percent and 33 percent of the vote, respectively.
So, until recently, Democratic candidates have been mired in about a third of the vote. Nonetheless, the increasingly better Democratic performance of the more recent elections, 2015, in which Democrat Heather Arnet garnered 45 percent of the vote, and the aforementioned 2012 and 2016, seems to coincide with races, such as is the current case, in which the seat is open. That, again, is a good omen.
In addition, there are further examples that the tide is shifting in favor of Democratic candidates in the municipalities that are encompassed in the 37th PA SD. Lamb went on to win the newly drawn 17th PA Congressional District in the General Election last year, receiving 58 percent of the vote in those municipalities that are also a part of the 37th PA SD. Also, while none of the Democratic nominees for the 39th, 40th, 44th and 46th PA House Districts prevailed against their Republican opponents that year, they did perform significantly better that have recent previous Democratic candidates in those districts. They received 46 percent, 44 percent, 48 percent and 48 percent of the vote, respectively, in those voting precincts that are also a part of the 37th PA SD. It should also be mentioned that, as with the current situation in the 37th PA SD, the first three of these state House contests were for open seats with the Republican incumbents having left for one reason or another.
All of that having been said, what is a likely scenario in the 37th PA SD that could lead to a Democratic victory in this district. First we should examine the likely voter turn-out. Keeping in mind that this is a Special Election in an off year cycle and doesn’t coincide with either a Primary or General Election, there are two former such elections in these very municipalities that can serve as models for projected voter turn-out.
The first of these is the aforementioned Special Election in the old 18th PA CD last year. As was stated previously, that contest resulted in a staggering 49 percent voter turn-out in the municipalities that are also in the 37th PA SD. Using the voter turn-out percentages from this race, and adjusting for current voter registration figures, that would predict a 47 percent voter turn-out for this Special Election, or about 99,500 voters.
That’s an incredibly high projection for such an election. Nonetheless, as has been stated previously, most of the municipalities that are in the 37th PA SD were also in the old 18th PA CD, these were the same voters that carried Lamb over the finish line and this victory being a scant year in the past, one has to imagine that these voters are still basking in what they accomplished and maintain a full head of steam.
Finally, whatever else can be said about that election, the fact remains that it was opposition to President Trump that motivated the voters in these municipalities and allowed them to rally and overcome the losses that Lamb endured in Greene, Washington and Westmoreland Counties. There’s absolutely no reason to believe, particularly given their very recent disappointment in the failure of Special Prosecutor Mueller to hand down indictments against the President or members of his Administration and campaign, that this anger and motivation has dissipated.
The second Special Election that could serve as a model is the one that was held for the 37th PA SD seat itself in 2015. This has the attraction of being a Special Election held under more ordinary circumstances and without all of the national attention that surrounded the Lamb – Saccone contest. Also, the Democratic candidate, Heather Arnet, was a woman, as is the current Democratic nominee, Pam Iovino. Arnet also came within striking distance of victory, garnering 45 percent of the vote, something upon which the current effort could certainly be built.
Using the voter turnout percentages from this race, and adjusting for current voter registration statistics, a turn-out of 30 percent, or about 62,900 voters is projected. This is still a high voter turn-out prediction for such an election, but might very well be a more realistic assumption.
Under either of these voter turn-out assumptions, how then does Iovino take the next step and translate this into a win. Taking the highest Democratic performance, in each voting precinct located in the 37th PA SD, from the past Special and General Elections for this seat itself, the two winning Lamb contests and the aforementioned four state House races last year, Iovino is afforded a possible 54 percent share of the vote.
If voter turn-out is in the lower 30 percent range, this comes out to about 33,800 votes for Iovino with Raja receiving the balance of about 29,000 (46 percent) of the vote. If, however, voter turn-out is closer to the upper range of 47 percent, Iovino might count on about 53,500 votes with Raja garnering about 45,900 (46 percent) votes. In either case, the number of write-in votes for others stands at about 95 votes.
Of course, it goes without saying that, aside from those advantages that a Democratic candidate might enjoy this election cycle that have been outlined above, these numbers presuppose that not only has the Iovino campaign mounted very serious field and Get-Out-the-Vote operations designed to identify supporters, persuade undecided voters and turn them out on Election Day itself, but that actual vote goals and targets have been set within that effort for each and every voting precinct in the 37th PA SD.
These vote goals should be based upon, as was discussed above, how well past Democratic candidates have performed in the relevant past elections that have been mentioned. In this case, that comes down to 159 voting precincts that are situated within 28 different municipalities with between a 46 and 54 percent Average Democratic Performance. These are swing precincts that have proven, in the past, capable of being carried by candidates of either major party. As such, they should be subject to the highest priority and receive the most attention and resources from the Iovino campaign.
In addition, there are 47 voting precincts that are located within 15 municipalities and have an Average Democratic Performance of 55 percent or higher. These are the areas that are most likely to vote for a Democratic candidate and, therefore, should also be afforded considerable attention and resources, particularly during the Get-Out-the-Vote and Election Day efforts.
This leaves the remaining 39 voting precincts that are part of 15 municipalities and have an Average Democratic Performance of 44 percent or less. While, in a district with a history of favoring Republican candidates, votes from no quarter should be written off lightly, choices do have to be made. As such, these remain the least likely sources of support for Iovino and, consequently, should receive the least amount of attention and resources.
Of course all of these vote goals and targets are just that. They are to be determined and worked at. Certainly will not be reached in every case. That said, with an overall projection of 54 percent of the vote, enough leeway has been built in to provide Iovino with a realistic chance of obtaining enough of these goals to flip a Senate District that has, until now, stubbornly resisted supporting Democratic candidates.
But, in order to make that happen, she does need to approach this in the systematic, integrated and comprehensive manner outlined above, along with a firm plan to do so in hand and the ability to implement it.