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Pennsylvania’s 7th: How Do You Rate a Race for a Seat That Doesn’t Exist?

Keystone State district lines likely to change with new map

Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick Meehan announced his retirement under a cloud of sexual misconduct allegation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Pennsylvania Rep. Patrick Meehan announced his retirement under a cloud of sexual misconduct allegation. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The deep, dark secret of political handicapping is that there isn’t a singular equation that can project the winner of each congressional race. It is helpful to know who is running and where they are running. But thanks to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court throwing out the Republican-drawn congressional map and GOP incumbent Patrick Meehan’s retirement, we barely know anything about this year’s race in the 7th District.

On Thursday evening, Meehan finally announced his decision not to seek a fifth term after allegations of sexual misconduct with a former staffer and a futile attempt to explain away his conduct.

Normally, this is where I would look at the district’s recent presidential voting patterns (Hillary Clinton narrowly carried it in 2016 after Mitt Romney did the same four years earlier, if you have to know), but those numbers aren’t particularly relevant considering the midterm election is likely to take place under a new congressional map.

Meehan’s suburban Philadelphia district is so gerrymandered that it seems likely to change dramatically to conform to the court’s order to maintain compactness. And Democratic performance should improve with a redraw.

Holding the current 7th without Meehan in this political environment was going to be difficult for the GOP. Now that he’s not running, it could free up Keystone State Republicans to make the district more Democratic (because they don’t have to worry about endangering an incumbent) in order to shore up GOP Reps. Ryan A. Costello and Brian Fitzpatrick in the 6th and 8th districts.

Watch: The Many Ways to Draw a Gerrymander

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Neither Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf nor the state Supreme Court are likely to approve a new map that favors GOP candidates in three southeast Pennsylvania districts. And it’s tough to evaluate the candidates, considering those fields won’t be finalized until a new map is in place.

One thing we know for sure is that the Leans Republican rating for the 7th District doesn’t make sense anymore. This is the type of area where we could see a suburban surge by Democratic voters, and redrawing the map will likely imperil at least one House seat outside of Philadelphia. We’re changing the Inside Elections rating to Tilts Democratic.

We’ll release new ratings for Pennsylvania (or any other state) after a new map is finalized and candidates begin filing. Because, once again, handicapping a race depends on who is running and where it is taking place.

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