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Top Ten PA House Races

The current state House map by party. Source: Wikipedia Commons

PA has 203 state House districts, and winning a majority of them requires lots of work, a great deal of money, and a well-executed game plan. Here are the top 10 seats in play this year.

The GOP had its best year in decades in 2010 when the party gained a whopping 14 House seats. Democrats will need 10 seats to regain the majority.

It’s very unlikely that Democrats will get there, but 2012 is their chance to make as big a dent as possible before the GOP-friendly redistricting maps kick in for 2014.

Seats are ranked by likeliness to switch party control.

Editor’s note: this is our first list of the fall; keep an eye out for regular updates on the state of the campaign for PA House and Senate.

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

Long-time incumbent Bud George, a Democrat, is retiring at the end of this term. George won re-election in 2010 by 677 votes in this district that is trending red (albeit without spending any money on ads or voter contact). The presidential race is likely to help GOP performance here. The Republican candidate, Tommy Sankey, is a young businessman and accountant and a talented candidate. PoliticsPA named his the best website for a state House candidate in PA. 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.

What makes this even more interesting: this seat will be in play in 2012, 2014 and beyond because redistricting doesn’t make this seat much better for the GOP. The proposed map would essentially rename HD-74 as HD-73, lumping most of Clearfield and some of Cambria county together. Current HD-73 incumbent Rep. Gary Haluska gets moved to HD-72, setting up either a retirement, a move to a new residence, or a primary with fellow Dem Rep. Frank Burns.

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

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). When the proposed redistricting maps were tossed out and the current districts remained for 2012, Dems wasted no time getting Levdansky back on the ballot. Add that to Saccone’s conservative voting record and this Monongahela Valley district is the Democrats’ top pickup opportunity in the state.

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

This is another rematch. Kampf beat then-freshman Democrat 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). That said, Kampf has many friends in the private sector who view this race as a proxy battle in the ongoing cold war between business groups and trial lawyers like Drucker.

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

A businessman and restaurateur, Mirabito came to office in the wave of 2008. But unlike so many of his colleagues and thanks to a well-run campaign, he avoided the storm in 2010 and won re-election by about 5 points. Both times he defeated Dave Huffman, whose candidacies were clouded by serious personal issues involving an ex-wife and a restraining order. This year however, his opponent is Harry Rogers, a well-connected county employee who formerly chaired the Lycoming GOP. Rogers stepped on some toes during the primary, but most of the party is lined up behind him. And, if Mirabito holds on, he’s guaranteed a more GOP-friendly seat in 2014.

5. HD-156. Dan Truitt, Republican, parts of Chester County including West Chester

If there’s one man Democrats want to make pay for the ultrasound mandate bill, it’s Truitt – one of its original co-sponsors. The freshman Republican hasn’t voted like a man from a southeast Pa. swing district. The Democratic candidate is Bret Binder, an attorney from a family of attorneys (read: built-in fundraising network). He also owns part of a gourmet rice pudding shop in Haverford Township. Unlike 2010, the presidential race will bring out students at West Chester University (turnout in the district was 33.5 percent higher in 2008 than in 2010).

6. HD-71. Bryan Barbin, Democrat, Johnstown and surroundings in Cambria County

Barbin is a typical western Pa. Democrat: he’s pro-gun and the chairman of the House pro-life caucus. That hasn’t kept him out the GOP’s crosshairs for the past several years, though. In 2010 he won re-election by 187 votes. That was an improvement over his 2008 performance, when he scraped out a win by just 182 votes. The Republican candidate is better this year, too. Sherry Stalley was a reporter and anchor on local news for over two decades and has a head start on 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.

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

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. Jason Owen is an attorney and formerly the Executive Director of the Erie County GOP. Any open seat with reasonably close registration numbers (48 percent Dem, 42 percent GOP) is worth watching, and Republicans like their chances of a pickup.

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

Simmons beat moderate Republican Karen Beyer in the 2010 primary and cruised to a win in the general election. The former district staffer to two state Senators has stood strong on his ideological views, winning him the admiration of conservatives around Pa. But in 2012, this is a race where the presidential contest and Dem GOTV efforts matter; 40 percent of voters here live in the City of Allentown. The Democratic candidate is Kevin Deely, a high school English teacher and former union president – someone who will have little trouble drawing a contrast on education issues, or making a good impression on public education donors.

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

A third rematch makes the list. Markosek withstood a challenge from Mike Doyle, the President of the Plum Borough Council, by an 8 point margin in 2010. But this year, the presidential race is likely to boost the Republican. Plus Doyle has a golden name – the same as the Democratic congressman from next door. As the minority Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Markosek will be well funded (he had about $350K back in May). But every dollar spent to keep this seat safe is a dollar that can’t go to other candidates on this list, so expect the GOP to push here regardless. And he’s taken a lot of votes in his 30 years in office.

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

Taylor is one of the last Republicans in Philly whose office isn’t mandated by the city charter. For over a decade he’s cruised past opponents by double digits in presidential cycles and otherwise, but he’s got a more serious challenger this year. Democrat William Dunbar, 28, is a former staffer to Chaka Fattah and Tony Peyton and has been working the district hard. At about 67 percent, Obama performed far worse in this district than the rest of Philly in 2008 – but still well enough to be decisive. However, lest Dunbar’s status as an underdog be unclear, Taylor is well-regarded and brings home the bacon.

*Correction: an earlier version of this story said that George had won by just 400 votes.

24 Responses

  1. Please. Have you seen the latest Owen flyer? It’s almost the exact messaging of Bizzaro. Owen’s now claiming “proven job creation experience” (talk about parroting Bizzaro; that’s been on Bizzaro’s literature and website since March.) I don’t know know what experience Owen counts has “job creation” but it sure ain’t being a lawyer. And if you want to point fingers, it happens within the Republican party. I mean, did you see Anderson’s new tagline in her commercial as an “Independent Voice”? Either way, when you break it down in this day in age, every person running for office promises the same BS. We need someone who has results, not rhetoric.

  2. Bizzero is just parroting whatever Jason Owen says. It’s as if he takes his talking points directly from the Owen campaign. If he truly meant any of it it would be good for voters, but I suspect he is saying anything to try and get elected. The kid is plastic.

  3. Ah, yes, because Bizzarro moonlights as a cake decorator.

    Perhaps a mistake on the part of the store? Just a thought…

  4. I like HRCC’s chances. The exec dir of HDCC is some [redacted for violation of comment policy] guy named Ethan Smith. He [redacted] doesn’t seem to be working.

  5. Rep. Simmons will crush Deely on November 6th. Deely was thrown out of Easton. The teachers dislike him their. So much for being a Union President!. Now this outcast moves into our district portaying himself as an advocate for the residents of district 131 ???Please !!
    If the Democrats are pinning their hopes on this guy rots of ruck.! Rep Simmons is extraordinarly popular here . He grew up here. Developed his platforms on the concerns of the people he grew up with and frankly has done a fabulous job. Take a drive around the area and you cant help but notice the sea of blue and white yard signs throughout the area.Simmons will win this election by double digits quite possibly a landslide. Deely is a fraud .

  6. Dunbar is going to get clobbered by John Taylor. Congressman Fattah and Tony Payton carry very little weight in Philadelphia’s wards along the Delaware River.

  7. How stupid do you think the constituency in the 25th is? Those people know that Joe’s opponent isn’t Congressman Mike Doyle, but someone from Plum Borough trading on his name. Keep in mind that not all of Plum is in the 25th district.

  8. Bizzarrro has a ton going for him. I have only met him once but he is nearly killing himself knocking on doors. Ryan has put together a solid campaign. He is a hard working guy with sound judgement and a ton of money if his family owns half of Erie’s real estate.

  9. No mention of PA-50? We have an opens seat that is pretty much down the middle in the presidential race.

  10. We’ll see, Jack. Doyle won my area in the primary against Yakim-Wac-A-Mole. I think you are wrong but we’ll find out soon. Should be an interesting race, without doubt. Maybe not killing Santa, but gut instinct tells me the per diem issue will not help the 30-year incumbent. It is my understanding Joe took over $26,000 in per diems in 2009 — shameful! It’s nice talking to you, normally people don’t even know that Joe is their State Rep. — even after 30 years! See you around Monroeville!

  11. Re: HD-3

    Looks like someone had the good sense to go back and retract what was said earlier about Bizzarro. At least this update is slightly more accurate. The reference to his family’s choice of employment does not equate to what makes him qualified. If anything, it lends to itself to his family’s background, at most.

    There really is no comparison when you do your research and look at what the candidates for HD-3 have accomplished as individuals. Owen (early 30s) briefly interned for two governors, was executive director of GOP (I believe under scandal if I recall the Erie Times News headlines correctly,) and is a bankruptcy lawyer as quoted in a recent interview. He also claims to be an active member of the niagara league and the young professionals group and did pro bono for the save the 814 (check for yourself…found his profile on google: or website

    Bizzarro started working in the district attorney’s office through a nonprofit, decreased behavior incidents at an elementary school, and brings statewide organizations to our area for their big conventions and meetings. He claims to be involved in several community things including the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest PA, Erie County Truancy Task Force, and was a part of the Erie County Industrial Authority, the group that played a part in keeping LORD in Erie and saving jobs. Plus, he was elected vice-chair of the Erie County Democratic Party almost unanimously (and the youngest one yet..must be doing something right to get recognized) and has run other successful local races. (Again, read for yourself, or

    Form your own opinion, but at least do your homework before doing so. Personally? I’ll choose experience and results over years on the job. Plus, didn’t Owen run for this race previously and lose? Bizzarro at least seems to energize those around him. I’ll take my chances on the one who’s “a bit young.”

  12. Frank, Yakim beat Doyle by over 200 votes in Monroeville. Doyle should be ashamed of himself. Doyle didn’t touch Markosek in 2010 in Monroeville and Yakim beat him in the primary in Monroeville. So all Doyle did in the primary was win the voters he already had in Plum and Murrysville from 2010 and lost over half of the votes he had in Monroeville. Markosek had a huge fundraising advantage at the end of the primary. Doyle will continue to do well in his hometown of Plum and Republican heavy Murrysville. But he will not do well enough to make up for his pathetic showings in Monroeville. As JD said, unless you can pin the death of Santa Claus on Joe, he is in for another 2 years.

  13. Jack, “political neophyte” is an excellent phrase to describe John Yakim. However, I will bet you and J.D. Paperstacks that Joe loses and Doyle takes the win. We’ll pick this up on November 6th. See you around town!

  14. Bizzarrro’s qualifications are that his family owns a lot of real estate in Erie? He works for a Convention Center Authority that loses 800k a year in taxpayer money?

    Not sure I’d buy a used car from them let alone send them to Harrisburg to represent us. Sorry, maybe when you have some real creditably. 26 is a bit young for this type of responsibility.

    PA-3 is going red.

  15. I wish someone would really challenge Harhai (58th district), who’s not even supposed to seek reelection after that 2006 lawsuit from a fired legislative assistant. Why do people like him?

  16. Joe Markosek would have to crucify Santa Claus to lose that seat this year. Doyle’s best chance was in 2010, and he still lost by 8 points. Markosek is almost universally liked, even if people don’t agree with him. Very hard guy to smear.

  17. What about the 104th? This is a very viable seat considering Dem. Gene Stilp only lost by 300 votes in the Republican wave year of 2010 to weak incumbent Sue Helm. Sue was challenged in the primary by party leadership. Dem. Chris Dietz is raising money and on the ground and has a great chance of coming out on top!

  18. For Doyle to beat Markosek, he needs to win in Monroeville. He was crushed by Joe in 2010 in Monroeville and a political neophyte beat him in Monroeville in the primary. Without a winning strategy in Monroeville, this seat stays Democrat. Doyle should have done the work necessary to win in 2010…that was his chance.

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