Democrats See Blue in Pennsylvania With New Map

GOP legislators are expected to challenge new boundaries

Pennsylvania Rep. Ryan A. Costello’s district is now more Democratic, under the new congressional map. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Pennsylvania Rep. Ryan A. Costello’s district is now more Democratic, under the new congressional map. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted February 20, 2018 at 1:31pm

Pennsylvania’s state Supreme Court released a new congressional map Monday, potentially bolstering Democratic opportunities in the Keystone State. 

Republicans are expected to launch a challenge to stop the new lines from taking effect. In the meantime, as candidates and incumbents digest the new boundaries, Democrats see better chances for victory in some of their top targets. 

The new map follows a lawsuit that alleged the original GOP-drawn map represented an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. Though the Keystone State is competitive in presidential and gubernatorial elections, Republicans have won 13 of the state’s 18 House seats in the last three elections.

“This map is now a return to Pennsylvania being towards the center of the political universe when it comes to competitive congressional races,” said J.J. Balaban, a Democratic strategist in Pennsylvania. “In a state that arguably had one competitive congressional seat for the past three cycles, now it has six.”

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Better opportunities? 

While the 18 districts have been renumbered on the new map, initial analyses indicate the new lines preclude incumbent-on-incumbent contests that can happen in the redistricting process.

Democrats were already targeting six GOP-held House seats and they’re expected to target roughly the same number, though with a few changes. A number of these seat are more Democratic leaning under the new lines. 

The greatest gains for Democrats would appear to be in the Philadelphia suburbs. Retiring Republican Rep. Patrick Meehan’s district shifted from one Hillary Clinton carried by 2 points in 2016 to one she did by 28 points, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections and political scientist Brian Amos.  

Watch: The Many Ways to Draw a Gerrymander

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GOP Rep. Ryan A. Costello’s district, also in the Philadelphia suburbs, is another major target for Democrats, who see their candidate Chrissy Houlahan as a top recruit. Clinton’s winning margin in his district shifted from barely a point to nearly 10 points. 

Another Philadelphia-area GOP congressman, Brian Fitzpatrick, still finds himself in a competitive seat. President Donald Trump carried his district by less than a point, while under the the new lines, Clinton did so by 2 points. 

The new map also improved Democratic chances in another target, the seat held by outgoing GOP Rep. Charlie Dent. Clinton carried the newly drawn Lehigh Valley-based district by 1 point. The previous district voted for Trump by 8 points. 

One Democratic target became more Republican under the new map. GOP Rep. Lloyd K. Smucker’s seat shifted from one Trump carried by 7 points to one he did by 26. 

While Democrats might have less of an opportunity against Smucker, they could have a better opportunity near Pittsburgh against GOP Rep. Keith Rothfus. Trump’s winning margin in his district shifted from 21 points to 3 points.  

Democrats were not initially targeting Rothfus, though the seat could be an opportunity for Conor Lamb, currently running in the special election for Pennsylvania’s 18th District seat. Lamb appears to live in Rothfus’ newly configured district.

The districts held by Republican Scott Perry and Democrat Matt Cartwright also became more competitive under the new map, strategists said. 

While Democrats may hold the advantage this year, the new districts are still competitive for both parties, Balaban pointed out.

“Best guess based on this map is for a 9-9 delegation in 2019 coming from Pennsylvania,” Balaban said.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also lauded the new boundaries in a statement Monday night.

“More maps should look like Pennsylvania’s, so that there is a level playing field for candidates to compete and earn the trust of voters,” DCCC communications director Meredith Kelly said.

Another legal battle ahead?

With the filing deadline set for March 20 and the primary scheduled for May 15, incumbents and challengers do not have a lot of time to digest the map and launch their campaigns in the new districts.

And Republicans are vowing to appeal.

State Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and state House Speaker Mike Turzai called the new map the “ultimate partisan gerrymander” in favor of Democrats.

“Implementation of this map would create a constitutional crisis where the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is usurping the authority of the Legislative and Executive branches,” they said in a joint statement Monday. “We anticipate further action in federal court.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee also pointed to the impending legal battle in a statement Tuesday about the new congressional map.

“State and federal GOP officials will sue in federal court as soon as tomorrow to prevent the new partisan map from taking effect,” NRCC communications director Matt Gorman said. “The suit will highlight the state supreme court’s rushed decision that created chaos, confusion, and unnecessary expense in the 2018 election cycle.”

The United States Supreme Court previously rejected GOP lawmakers’ attempt to involve it in the lawsuit. GOP lawmakers had sought to halt the ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that the current map violated the state constitution. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. rejected the request but did not explain why in a one-line announcement.