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Democrats eye Pennsylvania district that became more favorable turf in 2018 redraw

Supreme Court opted not to stop partisan gerrymandering, but Democrats could still gain from state courts

Democrats are optimistic about knocking off Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Scott Perry, who’s running for just the second time in a district that became less favorable to Republicans under a new map. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Democrats are optimistic about knocking off Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Scott Perry, who’s running for just the second time in a district that became less favorable to Republicans under a new map. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Supreme Court’s decision last week not to stop partisan gerrymandering was a blow to congressional Democrats who were hoping several states could see more favorable maps for 2020.

But in at least one state, a new map implemented last year to redress partisan gerrymandering is giving Democrats another 2020 pickup opportunity. That map resulted from a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that found the old congressional lines violated the state constitution.  And Democrats are now looking to other state courts in their fight for less partisan maps. 

The excitement from national Democrats about Pennsylvania’s 10th District was on full display Monday, when state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, a Democrat, announced his candidacy against Republican incumbent Scott Perry, a member of the hard-line conservative House Freedom Caucus.

The Harrisburg-area seat wouldn’t be in play if Perry weren’t running for just the second time in a district that became less Republican under the redrawn map. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tilts Republican. Democrats netted three seats in Pennsylvania during the 2018 midterms under the new lines.

The Keystone State will be a top battleground for the presidential race in 2020, with President Donald Trump already having held several rallies there.

In last week’s decision, the Supreme Court said partisan gerrymandering was too political a question for the federal courts and rejected lower court rulings that the map in North Carolina needed to be redrawn. Plaintiffs are now challenging that map in state court.

“We are confident that justice will prevail in the North Carolina courts,” Bob Phillips, the executive director of Common Cause North Carolina, said in a statement after the ruling.  

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A new 10th District

DePasquale has long been mentioned as a likely candidate for the 10th district. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee followed up his Monday announcement with targeted digital ads against Perry. The Facebook spots seize on comments Perry made during the 2019 partial government shutdown when he questioned whether federal workers were really living paycheck to paycheck.

DePasquale told CQ Roll Call on Monday that Perry’s comments were what first made him think about running for Congress.

Unlike most incumbents, Perry is running in a district that’s still relatively new to him. For his first three terms in Congress, beginning in 2012, he represented the old 4th District, which was safely Republican. But last year’s state Supreme Court decision left him in a district that included about 60 percent of his old territory, according to calculations from Daily Kos Elections.

Under the new lines, Perry’s district also became less Republican — and that’s a key reason why Democrats think they have a shot at unseating him. He won reelection last fall over Democrat George Scott by less than 3 points. That was a far narrower margin than his previous winning margins: 32 points in 2016,  nearly 50 points in 2014 and 25 points in 2012.

Still a Trump district

Trump would still have carried Perry’s district in 2016 under the new lines, but by a smaller margin — 9 points instead of nearly 22 points, according to Daily Kos Elections calculations. 

After Perry’s narrow win last fall, the DCCC put the 10th District on its initial list of 2020 targets, released in January. Scott said last week he won’t be running again this year. That leaves the Democratic field to DePasquale and lawyer Tom Brier, who announced his candidacy earlier this year and raised $100,000 in the first quarter.

DePasquale argues that he can defeat Perry because he carried the new district by 2 points during his 2016 reelection for state auditor general. He defeated Republican John Brown statewide 50 percent to 45 percent.

He carried Dauphin County, all of which is in the new 10th District, but lost Cumberland and York counties, both of which are partially in the 10th. Trump won Cumberland and York counties, according to Daily Kos Elections calculations. 

“I was able to appeal to a whole bunch of people who voted for him and me,” DePasquale said, referring to the president.

DePasquale is term-limited as auditor general. He declined to say whether he’d be running if the congressional district lines hadn’t changed. 

His campaign will be focused on health care — he speaks often about a brother who died from muscular dystrophy — lowering the cost of prescription drugs and investing in alternative energy solutions that will create union jobs.

Asked whether he’d like to see Democrats open an impeachment inquiry into Trump, DePasquale said the president should be held accountable but he’d like to see congressional Democrats legislate.

“There is going to be a judge and jury for the president next November,” he said.  

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