News

The Republicans are reassessing their chances in Pa. midterms

Written by Dave Davies/WHYY | Sep 27, 2018 4:36 AM
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Two Pennsylvania Republican Congressional candidates have been abandoned by the national party, Connor Lamb (left) in the 17th Congressional District, and Marty Nothstein in the 7th. (Keith Srakocic and Matt Rourke/AP)

(Undated) -- Has the national Republican party given up on two more Pennsylvania congressional races?

Things could change, but the money flows suggest national Republican leaders are pessimistic about their chances in the 7th District in the Lehigh Valley, once held by moderate Republican Charlie Dent, and in the 17th District in western Pennsylvania.

Republican losses there, added to the two seats Democrats are expected to pick up in the Philadelphia suburbs, would amount to a dramatic change the Pennsylvania congressional delegation.

Democrats began the year with just five of the state's 18 congressional seats.

They could now end up with nine, and conceivably more (see below).

Following the money

The Republican National Congressional Committee, the party's Super PAC set up to help congressional candidates, has yet to spend a nickel in the 7th District in Lehigh and Northampton Counties, where GOP Lehigh County Commissioner Marty Nothstein is battling Democratic attorney Susan Wild.

An August report in the Allentown Morning Call newspaper said Nothstein was under investigation for un-specified past sexual misconduct, a probe that seems to have ended with no adverse findings for Nothstein.

Nothstein's campaign spokesman Dennis Roddy said every credible poll has shown the race is close. But he said the story gave national funders pause, and that hurt.

"But I'm telling you that as people reject this false narrative, I think national groups would be wise to come in and step up for Marty," Roddy said.

Meanwhile, the House Majority PAC, the Super PAC helping Democratic congressional candidates, has already spent $300,000 on advertising attacking Nothstein.

Across the state

The RNCC has canceled its advertising buys in the 17th District in far western Pennsylvania, where GOP Rep. Keith Rothfus is battling Democratic Rep. Connor Lamb -- a rare case where two incumbents are thrown together in a new district.

RNCC spokesman Chris Martin declined to comment on the funding decisions in either district, but the RNCC chairman, Rep. Steve Stivers told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the party still believes Rothfus can win.

America First Action, a Super PAC aligned with President Donald Trump had been spending to help Rothfus, so Stivers said the RNCC had the option to move money elsewhere for now.

"I wouldn't read into it," Mr. Stivers said. "I expect us to come back in there if we need to. It depends how much America First spends."

Franklin & Marshall political scientist Terry Madonna said Republicans are fighting to keep Democrats from flipping the 23 seats they need to control the House of Representatives, so they'll make tough decisions about where to spend.

"They have their own polls, and they think that it's not going to be easy to win the 7th and the 17th Congressional Districts," Madonna said. "So rather than throw bad money after good, they're going to change their priorities and pick those where they think they can actually win."

Spokesman Michael Barley said the Rothfus campaign has been running effective ads of its own, and that Rothfus "is in a great position to win this race."

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President Donald Trump, left, greets U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, R.Pa., after a speech at H&K Equipment Co. on Thursday, Jan. 18, 2018 in Coraopolis, Pa.(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

The big picture

Pennsylvania Democrats' hopes for gains in Congress got a big boost earlier this year when the State Supreme Court re-drew congressional boundaries widely thought to favor Republicans, making them more Democrat-friendly.

Three Democratic women (Chrissy Houlahan, Mary Gay Scanlon, and State Rep. Madeleine Dean) are considered likely to win their races in the Philadelphia suburbs, resulting in a net gain of two seats for the Democrats (Democratic U.S. Rep. Bob Brady is retiring, and his seat is being absorbed into others).

The RNCC hasn't spent anything in those races.

Analysts rate the state's three most competitive races as the 7th, 17th, and the 1st Congressional District in Bucks County, where incumbent Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is battling Democrat Scott Wallace in a contest marked by sharp attack ads.

The RNCC has spent $1.1 million in the district attacking Wallace, and Democratic groups have attacked Fitzpatrick.

If a Democratic wave were to sweep the state and the party was able to capture all those seats, the balance in the state congressional delegation would move from five Democrats, 13 Republicans (at the beginning of the year) to 10 Democrats, eight Republicans.

That's a rosy scenario for the Democrats, and some national political observers think it could happen.

The widely-quoted Cook Political Report rates the 7th and 17th as "lean Democratic," and it just moved the 1st from "lean Republican" to "toss-up."

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