Tag Archives: Brian Fitzpatrick

A STRANGE BELLWETHER: PENNSYLVANIA’S HOUSE

Sign up for ESY below! We won’t bother you except to let you know about fresh, new content. We promise!


The five competitive 2020 House races in Pennsylvania read like an abridged version of the national House race. They include the suburban battlegrounds, the exurban battlegrounds, a Romney-Clinton districts, an Obama-Trump district, a Republican in a seat that Clinton carried and a Democrat in a seat Trump carried.

The results of these districts in 2020 will likely be a bellwether for which party wins control of the House. Unfortunately, we won’t know the results of these five districts until we know who won the House, but developments in these districts over the next year will give some insight into which party is favored to win the House and their path to doing so.

The map below shows the current partisan makeup of Pennsylvania’s Representatives.   
Map Created at 270towin

The next map shows the current ratings1As rated by Sabato’s Crystal Balls for 2020 . Brown (District 1) is a Toss Up, light blue (7, 8) and light red (10) are Leaning Democrat or Republican, darker red (16) is Likely Republican, and dark red and dark blue are Safely Republican or Democrat.
Map Created at 270towin

The last two maps, at the bottom of the post, are meant to give some context for the following analysis. They show Pennsylvania’s average income (as of 2014) and population shift (between 2000 and 2018) by county.

Pennsylvania 1st: The Suburban Toss Up and the Republican in Clinton Country
Pennsylvania’s First District is a classic 2018 House battleground: Wealthy suburbs outside a major urban center. Based outside of Philadelphia, the first district is one of only three districts in the entire country in which Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and a Republican House member won in 2018. Of those three, only two are running for re-election in 2020. One of the two is Pennsylvania’s Brian Fitzpatrick, a moderate Republican who opposed appealing the ACA, has been endorsed by labor unions like AFL-CIO and gun safety groups and advocates like Everytown for Gun Safety and Gabby Giffords.

Clinton carried the district by 2% in 2016 and in 2018, Fitzpatrick won by 2.5%. The incumbent could have a hard time holding the seat in a presidential year, where the presidential race will heavily influence downballot votes. The district is currently rated a Toss Up. If Democrats are able to win this seat, they will almost certainly be able to hold onto the House. If Republicans hold it, they could be on the way to taking back a good number of House seats. In other words, Pennsylvania’s first district represents the districts that are necessary, but not sufficient for Republicans to win back the House.  

Pennsylvania 8th: The Democrat in Trump Country
Pennsylvania’s Eighth District is territory where, in my opinion, Republicans should be bullish. While it has some more urban areas — Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, and Hazelton — none of these are massive urban centers with very dense cores or suburbs and there is plenty of exurban and rural terrain for Republicans to gain ground in. The district had a massive shift between 2012, when Obama won it by 11.9% to 2016, when Trump won it by 9.6% — a move of over 20%. The district seems ripe for Republicans to win over ancestrally Democratic voters in the Scranton and Wilkes-Barre area who like Trump and the new Republican Party.

If Republicans can peel off incumbent Democrat Matt Cartwright, who won with an impressive 9.3% margin in this Trumpy looking district, they’ll be on their way to tightening the House margin and could flip it. It would indicate their ability to win in many of the 31 districts that Trump won in 2016 but a Democrat won in 2018.

Pennsylvania 7th: The Exurban Lean Democratic, Trending Republican District
Republicans winning Pennsylvania 7th is where the tables would really start to turn against Democrats. The Seventh District is centered around the urban Lehigh Valley, but extends out to more exurban and rural territory. The district voted for both Obama and Clinton, although it has been trending more Republican every year. In 2008, Obama won it by 14.5%, in 2012 he won by 7% and in 2016, Clinton won by just 1.1%.

The Democratic incumbent, Susan Wild, won in early 2018 special election after the incumbent resigned due to a sexual harassment controversy. She then won re-election in the 2018 November election by an impressive 10% margin. Democrats in the Lehigh Valley benefited from the 2018 court mandated redistricting, which swapped out the eastern, rural, Republican leaning portion of their district for the more Democratic-friendly territory up north in Monroe County.

If Republicans are able to take Pennsylvania 7th, they are probably on their way to winning back the House. It would indicate that they have the strength the oust the new class of Democratic House members and win back seats that they lost by pretty large margins in 2018. It would also indicate success in districts that, while trending red for some time, had not fully embraced Trump in 2016. If Republicans are able to carry two of the first, eighth, and seventh districts, they are, in my book, favorites to win back the House.

Pennsylvania 10th: The Exurban Lean Republican District
On the other hand, if Democrats are able to flip the Republican-leaning Tenth District, they are probably on their way to expanding their 34-seat margin.

The district, while centered around the state capital Harrisburg, is mostly exurban and rural. For a state capital, Harrisburg is a surprisingly small city with a population of just around 50,000. The metropolitan region, though, including suburbs and exurbs is much larger at around 570,000. Unfortunately for Democrats, most of these communities outside the metropolitan core lean Republican. Democrats would need to somehow dominate in both turnout and margin in urban Harrisburg while also winning back more rural voters.

Democrat’s big advantage may be the incumbent Scott Perry, a hardline conservative, who underperforms in what should be a relatively easy Republican hold. While Trump expanded Romney’s 6.6% margin to 8.9% in 2016, Perry won by just 2.6% in 2018. While this might indicate a weak incumbent in Perry, it also shows that, even in an extremely friendly Democratic environment, Republicans still were able to hold onto the seat. And in 2020, with the presidential election influencing downballot races, House Democrats will have an even more difficult time peeling off the much-needed rural voters.

If Democrats are able to overcome the pretty substantial barriers in the Tenth District, they will have held the House and likely be expanding their majority.

Pennsylvania 16th: The Rural Likely Republican, Obama-Trump District
Finally, we have the Obama-Trump Sixteenth District. If Democrats win here, the watershed has broken and they’ll be dominating the House. The heavily rural district stretches along the top half of the state’s western border, not quite reaching the outskirts of Pittsburg. The only urban portion of the district is in the state’s northwestern corner, in Erie county. Outside of this, though, the district is almost all rural and red.

While Obama did win the district in 2008 by a slim 0.8%, he lost it four years later, indicating that the district has been moving rightward even before Trump came along. But Trump expanded Romney’s 4.8% win to a much larger 20%. The incumbent, Mike Kelly, won by 4.3% in the Democratic friendly 2018 midterms, symbolizing his staying power. If Democrats can somehow win back a seat that 1) has been trending red since 2008 2) swung heavily towards Trump 3) is heavily Rural and 4) has a Republican incumbent who held on in the “blue wave” of 2018, they’ll be on track to dominate the House and will probably have won the presidency and Senate too.

A Strange Bellwether For the Presidency and House
The traditional “bellwether” state for presidential elections used to be Ohio. But as demographic trends continue to change the Democratic and Republican coalitions, this is no longer true. Another state from the Midwest or Great Lakes regions, like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, will probably be the new “indicator” of the electoral college winner — at least for the 2020 election cycle.

Pennsylvania, though, gives insight into more than just the presidential race. The state, with its crosscutting urban, rural, midwestern, and northeastern characteristics gives a sort of synopsis of the national race for the House. The state’s first, seventh, eight, tenth, and sixteenth districts are the bellwethers for the House. They’ll be ones to watch leading up to the 2020 elections, telling us which types of districts are up for grabs and where the true 2020 House battleground will be.

Additional Maps


Source: Data Usa


Source: Twitter @XNeon

NOT-SO-FRIENDLY-FIRE: REPUBLICAN HOUSE PRIMARIES

This is the second of two posts looking ahead to 2020 House primaries. Last week’s post looked at Democratic primaries and this week’s looks at Republicans. 

Incumbents almost never lose their primaries. In the last 37 House elections since 1946 over 98% of incumbents running for reelection have won their party’s nomination. Over the last twenty years that rate has been 99% — only 49 incumbents have lost primaries.

In 2018, two House Republicans incumbents lost their primaries: Mark Sanford (SC-01) and Robert Pittenger (NC-09). Sanford lost because he did not fully embrace Trump and his populist base. He signed a letter requesting that Trump release his tax returns, disapproved of the president’s push to drill off the Atlantic coast and said that the president was “partially to blame for the demons that have been unleashed” after the shooting at a congressional baseball practice in 2017.  The president went on to endorse Sanford’s opponent the afternoon of election day.

Pittenger’s pro-business Republican identity left room for an opponent who appealed to Trump’s more populist base. And while Pittenger did tie himself to Trump, his opponent, Mark Harris, effectively caricatured Pittenger as a member of the Washington establishment (The Swamp) and won over populist Trump supporters.  

Sanford and Pittenger lost their primaries because they were creatures of a pre-Trump Republican era. That isn’t to say they were otherwise perfect candidates — Sanford’s 2009 weeklong disappearance to Buenos Aires for an affair while he was governor did him no favors. Nor did the federal investigation into Pittenger’s real estate business help him. In the end, though, it was Trumpism that did the establishment incumbents in.   

Is the same dynamic true now? Do incumbents critical of Trump or who lack a Trumpish appeal face the greatest threat from Republican primaries? Sort of.

Of the six Republicans most vulnerable to a primary, only two are in the position because they aren’t Trump-ey enough. That’s largely because most Republicans have either gotten on board with the Trump agenda or have decided to retire. Continuing last week’s fun alliterative categories, we’ll call Republican incumbents who distance themselves from the president “Trump Traitors”. The other four are embroiled in scandals and we’ll call them “Scandalous Statesmen”.

Trump Traitors
One of Trump’s biggest critic in the House is Justin Amash (MI-03). Amash was the lone Republican to call for Trump’s impeachment following the release of the Mueller Report. This, unsurprisingly, was not popular with the president, who called him “one of the dumbest & most disloyal men in Congress”.  It was also not popular with Republicans — a June poll showed Amash trailing GOP state Rep, James Lower, 49-33. This is a departure from 2018 and 2016 when Amash didn’t face any challengers and 2014 when he won his primary by over 14%.

In July, though, Amash announced he was leaving the Republican Party to become an independent, making him the first House Republican to do so in nearly 20 years.  So, while technically this does not count as a Republican primary challenge, it’s close enough to be included here. The 2020 election will be interesting, given that there will be three major candidates — a Democrat, a Republican and Amash — unless Amash decides to run for president as a Libertarian, something he’s signaled is a possibility.

Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) is one of three Republican representatives who holds a district that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. He only won his 2018 general re-election by 2.6% (51.3-48.7), so has been positioning himself as a moderate. He has only voted with the president on 37% of the time since his reelection — far and away the lowest score of any Republican. Unsurprisingly, Fitzpatrick faces a challenge from the right. The first is a man named Andrew Meehan who, in a rather painful to watch announcement video, calls Fitzpatrick a “Democrat masquerading as a Republican” and an “anti-Trump, Trump-hating RINO”.  Given the quality of Meehan’s video and campaign website, Meehan doesn’t have the organizational expertise to take on Fitzpatrick who has raised nearly a million dollars this cycle. As of now, Fitzpatrick seems safe but would be in danger if a more formidable conservative enters he primary.

Scandalous Statesman
Republicans have a problem in Steve King (IA-04). He’s long been criticized for his flirtations with racism and white supremacism. He was rebuked by Republican leaders in 2013 for saying that immigrants have “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert”. His expanding list of controversies culminated this year in a defense of rape and incest, arguing that without it, there might be no population left on earth.  Unsurprisingly, Republicans want him out. He only beat his 2018 Democratic challenger, J.D. Scholten, by 3% in a district that leans Republican by 23%. With Scholten running again, national Republicans are lining up behind state Senator Randy Feenstra. Feenstra has almost $340,000 in the bank, which could help him overpower King’s $20,000. King has represented the area since 2003, meaning that voters have consistently re-elected him even after seeing his warts, which is a promising for his primary chances. Given that he’s one of the only Republicans in the country who could manage to lose the heavily Republican leaning district, expect establishment Republicans to throw support and resources to a more electable Republican. 

Chris Collins (NY-27), Duncan Hunter (CA-50) and Ross Spano (FL-15) are all in trouble for various accusations of corruption. Collins faces an indictment of insider trading; Hunter is facing federal accusations that he stole money from his campaign to “take their family to Italy, buy their children school lunches and fly a relative’s pet rabbit to Washington; Spano admitted that he violated campaign finance laws for failing to disclose “loans” from friends. The charges against Collins and Hunter and accusations against Spano all emerged after the 2018 primaries, meaning that they haven’t had to face their party’s voters with these accusations in the open. Primary challengers can also attack Collins’ and Hunter’s electability in a general election, claiming that they are endangering a safe Republican seat. Collins only won his 2018 general election by 0.4% in a district that leans 22.9% Republican, earning the distinction as the House Republican incumbent who most underperformed his district’s partisan lean. Hunter didn’t do much better — winning by 3.4% in a district that leans Republican by 21.6%.

Challengers have emerged against Collins and Hunter races. New York state Senator Christopher Jacobs, who is running against Collins, raised $446,000 in the second quarter of 2019 while Collins raised just $9,000. Hunter already faces five Republican primary challengers including Larry Wilske, a former Navy SEAL who raised over $200,000 in the last quarter. Spano, however, faces no primary challenger yet and had a relatively strong second quarter, raising over $200,000, making him seem like the safest of the three scandal makers.

The Takeaway
These are not the only Republican incumbents who will face viable primary challengers in 2020. Other incumbents including John Carter (TX-31) and Ted Yoho (FL-03) have primary opponents may eventually pose a threat, but don’t seem to viable right now. Chances are that Carter, Yoho and almost every Republican incumbent not mentioned above will easily win their party’s nomination. Even some of the six that I presented as vulnerable will probably breeze past their primary opponents next year.

The biggest factor in any of these primary races, though, is not fundraising totals or even the scandals. It is the president. The president’s blessing would probably even overcome egregious scandals, but endorsing controversial figures may be dangerous for a president hoping for reelection himself.

If Trump explicitly endorses or tweets support for a candidate — incumbent or challenger — they will have the upper hand. Similarly, if a candidate can successfully paint their opponent as anti-Trump, they have a good shot at winning over the party’s base. Remember, about  90% of Republicans approve of Trump, meaning that to defy him is to defy the party: a terrible strategy for trying to win the party’s primary.

Having Trump as party leader has created a primary season less fractured than that of the Democrats. The president’s kingmaker status will scare off and neutralize most party dissension and snap Republicans into line — at least through primary season. After winning their elections, many of these Trumpist tones may die down in favor of moderate appeals.  Until then, though, expect to see Republicans bringing out their ropes as they tie themselves as tightly to the president as possible.