The state of swing races in Pennsylvania critical to control of the House

State Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery, during a campaign rally for Pennsylvania candidates in Philadelphia, Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. Dean is favored over Republican Dan David in the Democratic-leaning House seat centered on Montgomery County. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

State Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery, during a campaign rally for Pennsylvania candidates in Philadelphia, Friday, Sept. 21, 2018. Dean is favored over Republican Dan David in the Democratic-leaning House seat centered on Montgomery County. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

When Bucks County Democratic candidate Scott Wallace greeted volunteer canvassers in Levittown Sunday, he told them the nation will be watching the district on election night.

“The folks in California are going to be looking at us around 8 or 9 o’clock Eastern Time to see if the [blue] wave is coming their way,” Wallace said. “Everybody cares about what you and I do here in the next couple of days.”

Wallace is challenging incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick in the 1st Congressional District, a seat so competitive Fitzpatrick said he’s followed everywhere by national media.

“Washington Post, New York Times, CBS,” Fitzpatrick said. “I think they view this as ground zero here.”

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Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick greets veterans at a re-dedication ceremony of the Bristol Township Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018. (Dave Davies/WHYY)

But the battle for Bucks County is far from only the race of consequence in Pennsylvania.

As Democrats and Republicans contend for control of the U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday, Pennsylvania will be a key battleground.

For most of the past six years, Democrats have held only five of the state’s 18 congressional seats (they captured one in a special election earlier this year).

But thanks to a combination of court-ordered redistricting, the departure of four Republican incumbents, and an anticipated wave of blue enthusiasm, Democrats are all but certain to make gains, and could contend for as many as 12 seats on Tuesday.

Democrats are now polling well in districts thought to be solid Republican turf, like the 16th district in western Pennsylvania, held by Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly.

“Pennsylvania can play a pivotal role,” said Muhlenberg College political scientist Christopher Borick. “If Democrats are going to flip the 23 seats they need nationally, Pennsylvania’s contribution could be very, very substantial.”

Jon Delano, a veteran political analyst in Pittsburgh, has a target in mind for the Democrats.

“In my view, they must get 9 of the state’s 18 seats to have a shot at taking control of the House,” he said.

Pennsylvania’s new congressional map as drawn by the Pa. Supreme Court.

What follows is a look at Democrats’ prospects in key races, based on polling, ratings from national analysts, and spending patterns of the national parties.

If Democrats win the races described below as “likely winners” and “high hopes,” and lose no seats, they’ll have nine of Pennsylvania’s Congressional seats.

Likely winners – women in the suburbs

-4th district — State Rep. Madeleine Dean is favored over Republican Dan David in the Democratic-leaning seat centered on Montgomery County. National Republican groups have not invested in the race.

-5th district — Attorney Mary Gay Scanlon beat nine rivals in the Democratic primary for this seat, which includes Delaware County and parts of South and Southwest Philadelphia and a piece of Montgomery County. The seat is the most Democratic in voting patterns of the new suburban districts, and the departure of former Delaware County U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan after a sexual harassment scandal made this a steeper climb for the GOP. National analysts rate it a likely Democratic win for Scanlon over Republican Pearl Kim.

-6th district — Chester County Democrat Chrissy Houlahan was regarded as strong candidate in the Republican-leaning seat before new districts were drawn in February. The new boundaries made it a more competitive district, and incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello decided to drop out of the race, leaving attorney Greg McCauley as the only Republican on the primary ballot. Houlahan is a strong favorite.

-Adjustment: the disappearing district — If you’re keeping score, you should note that victories by the three Democratic women in the suburbs will net the party a gain of only two seats, since the Philadelphia/Delaware County seat held by Democratic Rep. Bob Brady disappeared in the redistricting, and he chose not to seek re-election.

High hopes

-7th district — Democrat Susan Wild won a competitive primary in this redrawn seat in the Lehigh Valley. The departure of popular Republican U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent left the GOP looking for a new candidate. The winner of the Republican primary was Lehigh County Commissioner and former Olympic cyclist Marty Nothstein. His momentum was stopped cold in August by a newspaper story reporting an unspecified sexual misconduct allegation, which Nothstein was apparently cleared of. The national Republican Party has left Nothstein on his own. An October poll showed Wild leading by seven points.

-17th district — Western Pennsylvania Democratic U.S. Rep. Connor Lamb won a special election in March after the departure of Rep. Tim Murphy. He’s now running in a redrawn district against U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus (the only race in the country pitting two incumbents against each other). Lamb is a Marine veteran who’s said he won’t vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker if he wins. The race is competitive, but polls have shown Lamb ahead.

Democrat Scott Wallace greets volunteer canvassers in Levittown on Sunday, Nov. 4, 2018. (Dave Davies/WHYY)

The toss-up

-1st district — The Bucks County battle between Democratic challenger Scott Wallace and Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is one of the most closely-watched and expensive races in the country. Total spending so far exceeds $28 million, much of it by national Super PACs. The national rating sites the Cook Political Report and Inside Elections both moved the race from “lean Republican” to “toss-up” several weeks ago. A recent poll shows the race within the margin of error.


-16th district — This western Pennsylvania seat voted for Donald Trump by 20 points, and Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly seemed safe a month ago. But Democratic challenger Ron DiNicola has run a strong campaign, national Democrats have invested in the race, and a recent poll showed the Democrat up by four points.

-10th district — Democrat George Scott, a pastor and Army veteran is taking a run at three-term Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, who’s a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus in the House. A recent poll shows Perry up, but within the margin of error.

-11th District – Democrat Jessica King is challenging one-term Republican incumbent Lloyd Smucker, a member of the bi-partisan Problem Solvers Caucus in Congress. The district went for Donald Trump by 25 points in 2016. Neither of major parties’ main Super PACs have invested in the race, a sign they see it as firmly in the Republican column. But the most optimistic Democrats see an opportunity here. “If there’s a Democratic victory here, you’re looking at a not a blue wave but a tsunami,” Delano said.

A Republican gain?

-8th district — The one seat held by a Democrat that Republicans have ambitions of turning red is the northeast Pennsylvania district held by U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright. The Republican candidate, John Chrin is a banker who’s been able to invest some personal wealth in the campaign, and the National Republican Congressional Committee has spent $556,000 attacking Cartwright. A New York Times in mid-August found Cartwright up by 12 points.

Your election night scorecard

If the Democrats hold onto Cartwright’s 8th district seat and carry  the “likely winners” and “high hopes” races described above, they’ll come away with 9 of the state’s 18 congressional seats. If they win those and the “toss-up” race in Bucks County, they have a majority of the delegation with 10 seats.

If they win those and all three of the races described as “reaching,” they’ll have 13 of the 18 seats, a complete reversal of the 13 Republican, five Democrat composition the delegation began the year with.

Don’t forget your popcorn.

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