Candidates blitz Pennsylvania’s newly competitive districts
HARRISBURG — An avalanche of would-be candidates filed to run for Congress in Pennsylvania ahead of Tuesday’s deadline, taking advantage of more competitive districts and far surpassing candidate numbers in the three elections since Pennsylvania dropped to 18 U.S. House seats.
As of early afternoon, more than 80 people had submitted paperwork, including more than a dozen people aiming for an open Philadelphia-area seat that is considered likely to flip from Republican to Democrat in this year’s mid-term elections.
Candidates must submit at least 1,000 voter signatures to get on the May 15 primary ballot. Court challenges on the validity of the signatures could still thin the herd somewhat.
Interest in running for Congress is high, driven by Democrats’ anti-Trump fervor. In addition, Pennsylvania has its most open seats in decades — five Republicans and one Democrat elected in 2016 aren’t running again — and there are more competitive districts after the state Supreme Court redrew boundaries that it ruled had been unconstitutionally gerrymandered by Republicans in 2011.
The new court-ordered districts will be in play this year and Democrats hope that picking up several more Pennsylvania seats will provide a big boost toward their goal of capturing a U.S. House majority.
GOP moving on: On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre County, said he believed Republicans should end their efforts to block the court’s redrawn districts from taking effect, one day after losing challenges in front of the U.S. Supreme Court and a separate panel of three federal judges.
“We appealed it, we lost and it’s time to move on,” Corman said, adding that he did not see “any reasonable further litigation.”
Congressional primary ballots peaked at 48 candidates in the three elections since Pennsylvania dropped from 19 to 18 U.S. House seats in 2012. In 2016, 41 people were on primary ballots.
Following the 2010 census, Republicans who controlled Harrisburg redrew the map to help Republicans get elected, churning out what became widely viewed as among the nation’s most gerrymandered congressional districts.
It proved successful: Republicans have held a 13-5 edge in Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation for all three elections in which it was used. Over the same period, Democrats held an edge in voter registration and won 18 of 24 statewide elections.
Now that he is not running again, Republican U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan’s seat is expected to fall into Democratic hands. Of the candidates filing there, 12 of 14 are Democrats. Meehan’s seat had perhaps the most tortured boundaries — it was nicknamed “Goofy Kicking Donald Duck” — and it underwent a dramatic redrawing to compress it.
Meehan is not running for re-election after it emerged that he had settled a former aide’s sexual harassment complaint with taxpayer money.
Republican Rep. Ryan Costello, also of suburban Philadelphia, is expected to face a tough re-election battle. Democrat and first-time candidate Chrissy Houlahan filed to challenge him.
Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus, of suburban Pittsburgh, could see a stiff challenge from Democrat Conor Lamb in a much more competitive district, although Lamb also could face a three-way primary fight.
Lamb held a slim lead as vote counting continued Tuesday in last week’s special election to fill the remaining 10 months in the term of former Republican Rep. Tim Murphy, who resigned last October amid a sex scandal. The Associated Press has not called the race. Lamb has declared victory while Republican Rick Saccone’s campaign has said he has no plans to concede before vote counting wraps up.
Under the redrawn districts, Lamb and Rothfus now live in a significantly redrawn district west of Pittsburgh.
In the southwestern Pennsylvania district of retiring Republican Rep. Bill Shuster, seven Republicans and one Democrat filed to succeed him. The district is viewed as safe for a Republican. Meanwhile, five Democrats and two Republicans filed to succeed retiring Republican Rep. Charles Dent in a swing seat in eastern Pennsylvania’s Allentown area.