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In Pa., House Democrats Are Really Ready for Hillary

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.

After defeating the late Sen. Arlen Specter in a Democratic primary, Sestak ultimately lost to Sen. Patrick J. Toomey in 2010. He began raising money for a rematch with Toomey last spring, and had nearly $1 million in cash on hand for the race as of Sept. 30.

But Sestak could have company.

Rep. Allyson Y. Schwartz, state Treasurer Rob McCord and Katie McGinty, a former adviser to Vice President Al Gore, are running for governor in 2014. Any of them who are unsuccessful could join the Democratic Senate primary in 2014.

Vulnerable Gov. Tom Corbett’s fate will also impact other moves in the delegation.

The Republican has record-low approval ratings, but no governor in modern history has lost re-election in Pennsylvania. If he wins a second and final term, an open-seat gubernatorial race in 2018 would create a downballot frenzy.

Sen. Bob Casey, a Democrat, would likely enter an open-seat gubernatorial contest in 2018, local operatives said. That would leave his Senate seat vacant.

“Bob Casey was born and bred to be governor,” one GOP operative said. “If he runs for governor, I foresee some serious bidders from the delegation” to run for Senate.

At least three House Republicans could run in an open-seat Senate race, including Meehan and Reps. Charlie Dent and Mike Kelly. Democratic operatives said a future open-seat Senate nominee would likely come from outside the current delegation.

“There are so few Democratic congressional districts in Pennsylvania that it’s not clear that future statewide candidates will be members of the delegation,” said Pennsylvania Democratic strategist J.J. Balaban.

Instead, Democratic operatives say the field of Senate candidates could include Attorney General Kathleen Kane, the first woman elected to the role in the state’s history.

In the House, an aging Keystone State delegation could prompt open-seat opportunities soon.

Democratic strategists say Rep. Robert A. Brady, D-Pa., currently in his 8th term, could retire in the next few cycles. Brady’s 1st District, which includes large swaths of urban Philadelphia, will likely draw a number of African-American candidates.

“Name a name who doesn’t run,” one Democratic strategist said of the field of contenders to replace Brady. “The ethnicity of the person will very much determine the field.”

Operatives also said Rep. Chaka Fattah is also on their retirement watch. The 10-term Democrat in the 2nd District represents a large chunk of Philadelphia, including the campuses of Drexel University, the University of Pennsylvania and parts of Temple University.

Democrats who could look to replace Fattah include:

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who is term-limited in 2015.

State Sen. Vincent Hughes

Philadelphia City Council Member Kenyatta Johnson

State Rep. Cherelle Parker

State Sen. Anthony Williams, who is currently running for mayor of Philadelphia.

Across the state in Pittsburgh, longtime Democratic Rep. Mike Doyle could also ditch the 14th District in the near future. The 10-term member and captain of the Democratic Congressional Baseball Team represents the heavily Democratic city and suburbs, and a long line of potential successors are waiting to hear his plans, including:

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who ran congressional campaigns before winning the mayoral election in 2013.

State Sen. Matt Smith, who lives in the neighboring 18th District but could run for Doyle’s seat.

Pittsburgh City Council Member Dan Gilman

Lawyer Kevin Acklin, Peduto’s chief of staff

GOP operatives say that longtime Republican Rep. Joe Pitts could also call it quits soon, and in that case several Republicans will consider the 16th District in southern Pennsylvania.

Possible successors include former state Rep. John Bear, Lancaster County Commissioner Scott Martin, state Rep. Ryan Aument and Republican activist Don Eberly.

Farm Team is a weekly state-by-state look at the up-and-coming politicos who may eventually run for Congress.