HARRISBURG, Pa. - Nearly half the state lawmakers whose terms expire at the end of this year have already received some good news - they have no opposition at all in 2014 and can plan to be voting on legislation again come January.
The governor's race has been getting the most attention, but all 203 state House seats and half the 50-seat Senate expire this year. The results of those races will have a big impact on what happens in Harrisburg for the next two years.
Republicans outnumber Democrats 111 to 92 in the House and 27 to 23 in the Senate.
Democrats are working to make inroads in the lower chamber but hope their stars align so they can retake control of the Senate. The wild card is at the top of the ticket, where Republican Gov. Tom Corbett has struggled to build momentum and four Democrats are battling for the nomination to take him on.
Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, a leading Republican strategist, said he thinks Corbett's numbers will improve once voters see a head-to-head race.
"This thought process that he's going to be a drag on the top of the ticket is one that's being fabricated by the Democrats to give themselves some gravitas in these races," Scarnati said.
Senate Republicans are defending six seats in the east and southeast, where voters may feel their senators are pursuing or at least enabling conservative policies they do not support, said Sen. Rob Teplitz, D-Dauphin, co-chairman of his caucus' election effort.
"Regardless of whether they're nice guys or not, some of them have fairly extreme voting records, and they've been enablers of the Corbett budgets and the Corbett agenda. That's something people need to keep in mind when they go vote," Teplitz said.
Seven Senate incumbents have primary opposition; 10 others have none at all. Five senators are retiring: Republicans Ted Erickson of Delaware County, Mike Brubaker of Lancaster County and Bob Robbins of Erie County, and Democrats Richard Kasunic of Fayette County and Jim Ferlo of Allegheny County.
In the House, 34 incumbents are in contested primaries, but nearly 100 others have no opposition in the primary or in November. The 19 House retirements include Speaker Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, and six members who are seeking other offices. The numbers could change with additional departures and write-in efforts.
"We're on a multi-cycle approach to get back to majority," said Rep. Tim Briggs of Montgomery County, who coordinates House Democrats' campaign efforts. "Our goal is to win three to five seats this cycle."
His Republican counterpart, Rep. Dave Reed of Indiana County, said the Philadelphia region will be even more important than usual, and his party is losing a couple of veterans in swing districts there.
"The battleground will undoubtedly be in the southeast, given the gubernatorial election, a couple congressional races and the Senate seats," Reed said.
In the House, several incumbents are running with a cloud over their heads. Sen. LeAnna Washington, D-Philadelphia, awaits trial on allegations that she improperly used her staff on campaigns; she has a three-way primary and a Republican opponent waiting for the fall.
Four Democratic representatives from Philadelphia are seeking re-election after being named in The Philadelphia Inquirer as having been captured on tape accepting money from a confidential informant working on a criminal investigation for the attorney general. Only one has a primary opponent.
Because of the delayed redistricting map, Democratic incumbents face each other in two primaries. It's Frank Farina against Kevin Haggerty for a Scranton-area district and Harry Readshaw against Erin Molchany in Pittsburgh.
Two central Pennsylvania political activists who campaigned for government reform after the ill-fated 2005 pay raise vote are also seeking House seats.
Republican Russ Diamond appears a shoo-in to replace Rep. RoseMarie Swanger, R-Lebanon, who isn't running for re-election. Diamond galvanized anti-incumbent sentiment in 2006 through pacleansweep.com and ran for lieutenant governor four years ago.
Gene Stilp, a Democrat who has lost in several races and is known for prop-based political messaging, including a large portable pink pig, has no primary opponent in his bid to take on Rep. Sue Helm, a Republican from north of Harrisburg.