Top Ten PA House Races: Final Week

The current state of the state House

There’s just a few days of campaigning left to go, and the picture for the state House is getting clearer.

Barring some tectonic shift in the political environment, the Democrats have no chance of retaking the majority. They’re likely to pick up net 2 seats and could realistically gain up to 4. They could also finish 2012 with a net loss of 2 seats; Republicans have significantly outraised Dems so far this cycle.

Seats are ranked by likeliness to switch party control (compared to our list from Sept. 12). And don’t miss our list of the Top 5 Pa. State Senate races.

1. HD-74. Open seat, Democratic, most of Clearfield County
Previous rank: 1

Long-time incumbent Bud George, a Democrat, is retiring at the end of this term. The district is trending red. The Republican candidate, Tommy Sankey, is a young businessman and accountant and is one of the best candidates in the state. The Democrats also have a top-tier candidate in County Commissioner Mark McCracken, who did better than any Dem had a right to when he ran for Congress against GT Thompson. But the national environment – especially Obama’s low numbers in this part of the state – make the seat a likely pickup for the GOP and Dems have eased off.

2. HD-39. Rick Saccone, Republican, southern Allegheny and eastern Washington counties
Previous rank: 2

This is a rematch of 2010 when Saccone, boosted by a GOP wave year, ousted Rep. Dave Levdansky by 151 votes out of 21,371 cast (0.8 percent). This year will be different, and Saccone remains Dems’ top target.

3. HD-157. Warren Kampf, Republican, eastern Chester and parts of Montgomery counties including Phoenixville
Previous rank: 3

Kampf defeated Democrat Rep. Paul Drucker by 4 points in 2010, about 1,000 of 25,000 votes cast. Dems’ messaging statewide since 2011 is aimed at guys like Kampf who, after his election, have voted the party line (Corbett budgets and all). But he hasn’t been laying down; Kampf raised $219,000 since May, an enormous amount and enough to give him a spending advantage in a district where even cable TV is very expensive.

4. HD-161. Joe Hackett, Republican, central Delaware County
Previous rank: Not ranked.

Hackett is one of three suburban Philadelphia Republican freshmen on this list, and they’re all here for the same reason: consistent, party-line votes. This is the former seat of Democrat Bryan Lentz, who left it to run for Congress in 2010. Democrats have hammered Hackett for his votes on the Corbett budgets and his co-sponsorship of the ultrasound mandate. He raised $121,000 since May, and Harrisburg Republicans are coming to the rescue – they tripled their TV buy last week. Dems are feeling good about their challenger, attorney Larry DeMarco.

5. HD-16. Rob Matzie, Democrat, parts of Allegheny and Beaver counties
Previous rank: Not ranked.

This is a district where a GOP surge hurts Democrats big time, including two-term incumbent Matzie. He’s never had a general election opponent before; this year he faces Kathy Coder, a current member and former President of the Bellevue Borough Council and businesswoman. Citizens Alliance for Pennsylvania, a conservative group, has battered Matzie with 19 negative mailers, and he and Coder are about even as far as TV ad time. But Coder has a serious drawback: between back taxes and a lien on her home, she owes over $42,000.

6. HD-156. Dan Truitt, Republican, parts of Chester County including West Chester
Previous rank: 5

Once the top Dem target in SEPA, Truitt has benefitted from the high price tag of campaigning in the region and a relative advantage compared to his colleagues. That said, Democrats are still anxious to count Truitt – who ousted a Dem by just 212 voters in 2010 – among incumbents they beat in 2012. Truitt has voted on the party line and voters have received plenty of reminders about the fact that he was a co-sponsor of the ultrasound mandate bill. The Democratic candidate is Bret Binder, an attorney from a family of attorneys (read: built-in fundraising network).

7. HD-71. Bryan Barbin, Democrat, Johnstown and surroundings in Cambria County
Previous rank: 6

For two cycles in a row, Barbin has won-re-election by fewer than 200 votes, and the Republican candidate is better this year. Sherry Stalley was a reporter and anchor on local news for over two decades and has strong name ID. Barbin’s best hope? Mark Critz. The Congressman showed his ability to really get out the vote in Johnstown during the primary, and you can bet he’ll do the same in the general.

8. HD-83. Rick Mirabito, Democrat, Williamsport and nearby parts of Lycoming County
Previous rank: 4

Republicans are united around Harry Rogers, the first opponent Mirabito has faced who wasn’t A) divisive, and B) the subject of a restraining order from an ex-wife. A popular businessman, Mirabito knows the district and it knows him. A poll conducted by Lycoming College last week showed him ahead by 29 points, despite it being the most GOP-performing district represented by a Democrat in Pa. In the final week, Republicans may decide to keep their powder dry for 2014, when redistricting makes HD-83 more GOP-friendly.

9. HD-131. Justin Simmons, Republican, southern Lehigh County and part of Northampton County
Previous rank: 8

Simmons has been one of the most aggressive campaigners in the state, and has taken his opponent to the mat on several occasions. Kevin Deely, the Democrat, is a high school English teacher and former union president, whose actions in that role a source of plenty of potential attacks by Simmons. But despite a strong debate performance and a noteworthy newspaper endorsement, the fundamentals of the district – 48 percent Democratic to 37 percent Republican – still make for a competitive race.

10. HD-116. Tarah Toohil, Republican, southern Luzerne County including Hazleton
Previous rank: Not ranked

This makes the list thanks to its intangibles. The race had been a sleeper – until this month. An embarrassing video surfaced showing photos of Toohil with drug paraphernalia and more, and it’s gone downhill from there. She’s had a bad headline – about questionable funding of a trip overseas, her relationship with another state Rep., etc – nearly every day. Her Democratic challenger is Ransom Young, a farmer who served for 28 years as a Butler Township Supervisor. He’s kept on the attack. Now, the HDCC says it’s going to spend $100,000 to beat her, with this ad tying her video scandal to education cuts. That said, Republicans say their polling has her up over 30 and it’s not clear that Dems have polled at all. The money for the last-minute ad came not from data, but from former Majority Leader Todd Eachus, the man Toohil beat in 2010.

This list could easily be 20 entries long. Just to cover our bases, here are the races the parties are hoping turn out.

Democratic aspirations:

HD-5. Open seat, part of Erie County.
Previous rank: Not ranked.

Always watch open seats. Rep. John Evans (R) is retiring, and this seat is likely going to be moved to southeast Pa. Two men are squaring off for those two years: Republican Greg Lucas and Democrat Jason White. The Erie Times-News backed White.

HD-104. Sue Helm, Republican, northern Dauphin County.
Previous rank: Not ranked.

This is a race that has come on strong in the past month. Helm nearly lost her seat during the Republican wave of 2010, and 2012 is likely to be more Dem-friendly. Plus, she faced a serious, party-backed challenger in the primary. Her challenger is Chris Dietz, the Borough President of Millersburg, and an engineer. He’s proved to be a strong fundraiser, and he has the GOP’s attention; they’ve recently targeted him with negative mailers and television ads.

HD-155. Open seat, part of Chester County
Previous rank: Not ranked.

Rep. Curt Schroeder (R) is retiring after decades-long career as a conservative thorn in the side of GOP leadership. His former staffer Becky Corbin faces young Downingtown Mayor Josh Maxwell. An Obama surge would conceivably boost Maxwell.

Republican aspirations:

HD-3. Open seat, Democratic, part of Erie County
Previous rank: 7

Dems say they have this one in the bag; Republicans say it’s a viable pickup opportunity. Rep. John Hornaman is retiring at the end of this term, setting up a battle between two young professionals. Ryan Bizzarro, the Democrat, comes from a prominent boxing family that owns real estate and businesses in and around Erie. He currently works for the Erie County Convention Center Authority. And did we mention he’s dating Tom Ridge’s daughter?

HD-25. Joe Markosek, Democrat, eastern Allegheny County including Monroeville, and Murrysville in Westmoreland County
Previous rank: 9

You don’t spend $450,000 in a state House race, as Markosek did, unless you take it seriously. The Democratic chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Markosek is an alluring target for Republicans. His GOP challenger (for the second cycle in a row) is Mike Doyle, the President of the Plum Borough Council. He has a golden name – the same as the Democratic congressman from next door. This race doesn’t make the top ten, but we’re keeping an eye on it.

HD-55. Joe Petrarca, Democrat, parts of Armstrong and Westmoreland counties including Latrobe
Previous rank: Not ranked.

Republicans subbed in a new candidate, attorney John Hauser, and in recent weeks have upped their pressure on Petrarca. This is a Romney surge seat, meaning if the top of the ticket soars, the GOP could pick it up.

No longer ranked

HD-177. John Taylor, Republican, parts of Philadelphia including Port Richmond, Bridesburg and more
Previous rank: 10

How do you beat a guy who runs 25 points ahead of his party? Taylor is a Philadelphia institution who, despite his GOP registration, is very well-regarded and brings home the bacon. Democrat William Dunbar, 28, is a former staffer to Chaka Fattah whose best hope is an Obama surge. But it’s looking less likely that he will oust Taylor.

11 Responses

  1. Funny (not really), not a single Democratic woman in the list. If the party ever got behind any of the great women running, we’d see one on this list.

  2. Thanks, frank, for the research. I doubt if the kid could even explain what TIF financing is, let alone his part, or lack thereof, in it. Its obviously not the first untruth in his advertising; hoping that if you throw enough bad stuff at your opponent, maybe some of it will stick. Scrambling politician wannabes will try anything at the end to win.

  3. The truth on Bizzarro and purely factual information. He didn’t save 1,000 jobs for LORD Corporation like he claims. In fact he wasn’t even appointed to the Erie County Industrial Development Authority until after the special tax deal was done. Also, only 700 jobs were saved. He is a total lie.

    Proof here – Erie County Council Appointed Bizzarro 11/15/2011 http://eriecountygov.org/dept/council/pdf/11152011.pdf

    Proof about Number of Jobs (page 3) , Proof had no part in keeping jobs under resolutions ( page 7) -all resolutions were before 11/14/2011
    http://www.edcec.org/cms/uploads/news/FINAL%20Lord%20TIF%20Plan%2013Sept2012-134.pdf

  4. Jeremy, you’re welcome! On every campaign I’ve ever been involved in, the candidate signs off. They may get bullied into it by a consultant, but they give the okay. If Bizzarro can’t a) stand up to his own consultants or b) be adult enough to take responsibility for what’s done on his behalf, he has no business being in the legislature anyway. All I’ve heard is that he’s been incredibly lazy and expected his name, his labor support or Hornaman’s endorsement to be enough to get him across the finish line. He also tried to use the fact that he’s dating Lesley Ridge as a selling point for a PAC endorsement. I mean, really? He may have a bright future, but he needs a few years to get his act together first.

  5. Observer, thank you for the reply. Candidates rarely control their attack ads. It will say at the bottom of the ad at the end of the ad who paid for them. If it does not say something like, “paid for my committee to elect Ryan Bizzarro” or “paid for by Ryan Bizzarro” then he has no control over them. Both sides of the aisle do this all the time. How is he such a disappointment? What reason does Harrisburg give?

  6. Jeremy, you’re delusional. The word out of Harrisburg is that Bizzarro’s been a complete disappointment as a candidate. He’s blaming HDCC for his negative ads and saying he had nothing to do with them. And dating Tom Ridge’s daughter? Who cares?

  7. “Friend of Joe” or John G. (what does it stand for?) Yakim — Blah blah blah blah. No one cares what you think. Keep eating those sour grapes. You have failed to say an accurate thing yet about Mike Doyle’s record. You make me sick!

  8. Ryan Bizzarro is a slam dunk for that seat. The guy has his act together. I was impressed with him before I found out his family owns have the real estate in Erie and is dating Tom Ridge’s daughter. Bizzarro has all the momentum in the world. His future is bright.

  9. HD-25 Joe Markosek vs the empty chair. Mike Doyle didn’t take his job as Councilman seriously as illustrated by his poor attendance at his own council meetings. He has not earned our trust…Joe has. You cannot trust Mike Doyle to represent us well. He is habitually absent from council meetings. In fact, he misted an important meeting this past summer to attend a political FUNDRAISER. You just cannot trust Mike Doyle.

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