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In Pennsylvania, future Democratic congressional hopefuls are ready for Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016.
The Keystone State is a diminished congressional battleground, compared to several years ago. In 2012, Republicans re-drew the congressional map following the decennial redistricting process, making several fought-over House districts less competitive.
But local operatives argue that at least five House districts currently represented by Republicans could be competitive under feasible circumstances. And Democratic operatives said many Democrats who could run viable campaigns for those seats are waiting until Clinton is on the ballot to run.
“In two years, especially with Hillary Clinton on the top of the ticket, she’s going to do real well in Pennsylvania,” said longtime Pennsylvania Democratic operative Larry Ceisler. “So it will be a good year for Democrats downballot.”
Democrats said members such as Rep. Patrick Meehan, a Republican in the 7th District, might not have much competition this cycle. The Rorschach-test-shaped district in southeastern Pennsylvania just barely went to Mitt Romney last cycle with 50 percent.
Meehan probably won’t be so lucky in 2016, when Democrats predict he will have strong opposition — for example from Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro, a former Capitol Hill chief of staff. Shapiro doesn’t live in the 7th District, but one Democratic operative said “anyone in Montgomery or Lancaster County could run” for the district, which is easily the most gerrymandered in the state.
In the neighboring 6th District, there’s an open-seat race created by GOP Rep. Jim Gerlach’s retirement announcement earlier this year.
Republicans have coalesced behind Chester County Commissioner Ryan Costello in this GOP-leaning district. Democrats have touted businessman Mike Parrish, who switched parties to run as a Democrat this cycle, as their strongest candidate.
But Democrats also caution that if they can’t pick up the seat this year, the 2016 elections will provide the party with another strong pickup opportunity. They argue the presidential year turnout in the Philadelphia suburbs — much like in the 7th District — would boost a Democratic candidate. In that case, Democrats named Montgomery County Commissioner Leslie Richards and Chester County Commissioner Kathi Cozzone (who both declined to run in 2014) as strong candidates if Parrish loses.
Similarly, three-term GOP Rep. Michael G. Fitzpatrick has limited himself to four terms. If he wins re-election this cycle against one of the two Democrats looking to challenge him — veteran Kevin Strouse or scientist Shaughnessy Naughton — he could call it quits in 2016.
Democrats say Strouse and Naughton would likely run again if they failed in 2014, especially if the 8th District seat is open. The Republican bench would include a number of candidates, including Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley and state Sen. Charles McIlhinney.
Another Pennsylvania Democrat is already looking to ride Clinton’s coattails in 2016: former Rep. Joe Sestak.