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Congressional Democrats’ Pennsylvania Problem

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Democrats have an opportunity to pick up Pennsylvania's 6th district, where Manan Trivedi is making another run at the Republican incumbent. Trivedi, a physician and Iraq War vet, is a credible challenger, and the district is politically competitive.

As Democrats struggle to net 25 seats and win back the House majority in November, no single state reflects the party’s challenges more than Pennsylvania.

After all, Pennsylvania has gone Democratic in the past five presidential contests, and the apparent movement of the Philadelphia suburbs away from the GOP during the past two decades suggests a fundamental political shift in the state.

But if the southeastern corner of the Keystone State has started to resemble New Jersey and Connecticut, Western Pennsylvania increasingly looks like West Virginia or southeastern Ohio, areas where voters have started to think and behave more like Republicans. This movement of working-class voters toward the GOP has helped offset the partisan trend in the Philadelphia suburbs, keeping Pennsylvania an interesting and competitive state.

Pennsylvania swung wildly between 2006 and 2010, as most of the country did.

Democrats gained a total of five House seats in the Keystone State in the 2006 and 2008 elections — one-tenth of their total haul. After the ’08 elections, Democrats held 12 of the state’s 19 Congressional districts. Two years later, the numbers flipped, with Republicans sitting in 12 seats.

Redistricting after the 2010 census, of course, has further changed the state’s arithmetic because the GOP-controlled state Legislature made it more difficult for House Democrats to make gains by packing Democratic voters together, including throwing two incumbent Democrats into the same district.

So, while Democrats remain hopeful about retaking the House, Pennsylvania is starting to look like a black hole for them this year. And if the party can’t come out of Pennsylvania gaining even a single additional House seat this cycle, there will be extra pressure in states such as Illinois, California and Florida, where redistricting did benefit Democrats, to pick up seats.

Democrats’ best opportunity in the state remains the 8th district, a competitive Bucks County seat that incumbent Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R) won in 2004, lost in 2006 and won back in 2010.

According to GOP calculations, after redistricting, that district is less than a point more Republican than it was in 2008, when Sen. John McCain drew less than 46 percent of the vote there. And yet, the Democratic nominee is Kathy Boockvar, a politically untested attorney who had $250,000 in the bank on April 4, compared with $927,000 for Fitzpatrick.

Boockvar had a small legal practice for more than a decade and then worked for a few years for a nonprofit organization “as their Pennsylvania voting rights counsel.” Democratic operatives note that the nature of the district creates a problem for Fitzpatrick. But Boockvar doesn’t have the kind of “story,” credentials or assets automatically associated with a top-tier challenger.

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