Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Framing the House - Pennsylvania

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Pennsylvania is one of those “swing states” and it really is a bunch of disparate places. Sure, that’s true of most geographically large places, but here in PA, it can be really extreme. There are 19 House districts in the state and here’s the breakdown:

Safe Democratic seats: 8 – Bob Brady (PA-1), Chaka Fattah (PA-2) – these are the two Philadelphia seats, it’s close to a Law of Nature that they stay Democratic (at least since 1949). Also: Allyson Schwartz (PA-13), and Joe Sestak (PA-7) in suburban Philadelphia, Paul Kanjorski (PA-11) (Southeastern part of the Poconos), Tim Holden (PA-17) whose district includes Harrisburg, the state capital, and from Western Pennsylvania: Mike Doyle (PA-14), and John Murtha (PA-12) who has held his seat since 1973.

Safe Republican seats: 4 – John Peterson (PA-5). He’s retiring, but this is the top of the infamous “T” and the seat’s party won’t shift. Also Bill Shuster (PA-9), most of the bottom of the “T”, Joseph Pitts (PA-16), in the Lancaster area (think “Amish”), and Todd Platts (PA-19), the rest of the bottom of the “T”.

While the CW only rates 4 of the remaining races at all competitive, I see 7 seats to take a hard look at. The races the CW considers competitive are: Phil English (R-PA-3), Jason Altmire (D-PA-4), Jim Gerlach (R-PA-6) and Chris Carney (D-PA-10). I add to that Pat Murphy (D-PA-8), Charlie Dent (R-PA-15) and Tim Murphy (R-PA-18).

PA-3: This is the northwest corner of the state, and Phil English (R) won this district in 2002 after it was gerrymandered by the Republican State legislature. Prior to that, the 3rd District was in Philadelphia. His win percentage fell from 77% in 2002, to 60% in 2004, and 53% in 2006. This year, he will be facing Kathy Dahlkemper (D). Phil is a Bush supporter, and in the pocket of big business . Kathy Dahlkemper is more a civic person than a politician, and there is also Steve Porter who ran against English the past couple cycles as a Democrat, and is running this year as an Independent.

PA-4: This is a rematch of a rematch. Melissa Hart (R) held the seat after Ron Klink (D) gave it up to run for the Senate in 2000, until 2006. (He lost to Rick “Son of Satan” Santorum). Melissa Hart makes Rick look somewhat moderate in a lot of her positions. Jason Altmire, the current seat holder, is a conservative Democrat, which will help him in this district. He is leading with close to triple the money she has. As an aside, Hart had one of the first attack ads of 2008, back in February.

PA-6: In the interest of full disclosure, I live here in the PA 6th. Jim Gerlach (R) has name recognition, a more right-wing agenda than is usually publicized, and is overwhelmingly (4.25:1) ahead in money. Plus, Bob Roggio, the Democratic challenger, has self-funded about 30% of his campaign so far. The district is drifting blue, and if Bob gets out and does a lot of retail politics, and plays up Gerlach’s record, he can certainly win. Gerlach won in 2002 by 2.8%, 2.0% in 2004, and 1.4% in 2006. So the trend is very good.

As an aside, Guy Ciarrachi, who was Gerlach's Chief of Staff, is running for State Rep. He stopped by my house (I am not making this up) with the local Republican Committeeperson to see if they could politick me over to that side. My first question was “What do you think of FISA?” His initial answer was (and this is a quote, and I have witnesses) “Huh?”

PA-8: The incumbent, Pat Murphy (D) won 2 years ago as an Iraq vet in a highly competitive race winning by six tenths of a point. His competition this year is Tom Mannion (R), a Marine not currently on active duty, whose son was killed in Iraq. This district is Bucks County, a Republican bastion through history UNTIL this year when Democratic registrations surged ahead for the first time. Murphy has four times the money of Mannion , plus he was one of the first Obama surrogates in the state. While down-ticket coattails don’t always carry this far down, Murphy has gotten a lot of air time for being a surrogate during the primaries. While I’m 99.9% sure we’ll hold this district, it will likely be a nail biter as the numbers roll in.

PA-10: Chris Carney is what they call a blue-dog Democrat. Remarkably conservative. He won two years ago for one of two reasons: either because incumbent Don Sherwood (R) spent $5.5 million to settle a lawsuit over beating his long-term mistress, or because Bush came to stump for Don during “National Character Counts” week. Carney’s challenger is Christopher Lawrence Hackett. While they have similar amounts of money, that’s only because Hackett self-funded to the tune of close to a million bucks. Hackett is a Fund for Growth guy, and that probably won’t play well in the district as there has been, in the last couple of years, a lot of population growth due exclusively to the area becoming an affordable “suburb” of NYC commuters.

This district is comprised of Lehigh and Northampton counties which are now solidly Democratic in terms of registration. Charlie Dent, the incumbent, is a moderate Republican, running against Democratic Party person Siobhan "Sam" Bennett. Charlie has a large money advantage, but the seat has been targeted by the DCCC. While CW is calling it R to leans R, I’d call it a toss-up. As with all the House races, we’ll know much more by Labour Day.

PA-18: Tim Murphy (R) won this seat in the 2002 redistricting. His challenger is Steve O’Donnell (D), a business man with a history of working with the mentally disabled. Murphy is FAR right wing and O’Donnell should be able to do well in the suburban Pittsburgh district. My only concern is that O’Donnell is self-funded. Still, despite the CW, I view this as a toss-up.