Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Pennsylvania Downballot, III: State-Level Races

Attorney General (R/D)

            Strangely, for a swing state like Pennsylvania, the Republicans controlled the attorney general’s office for thirty-two straight years, from the time it became an elected position in 1980 to Kathleen Kane’s election in 2012.  The party’s choice to take back the office is John Rafferty, a state senator from suburban Philadelphia; challenging him is Joe Peters, a former federal prosecutor and assistant to the federal drug czar from Scranton.  There’s a Tea Party-versus-establishment angle to this primary.  In addition to the state committee, several elected officials have endorsed Rafferty, who has a record as one of the General Assembly’s more moderate Republicans.  Peters, meanwhile, touts his support from pro-life and gun rights groups. 
            On the Democratic side, the three candidates are Josh Shapiro, the previously mentioned Montgomery County commissioner; Stephen Zappala, a district attorney from Allegheny County (Pittsburgh and its immediate suburbs); and John Morganelli, a district attorney from Northampton County, in the Lehigh Valley, who was the party’s nominee in 2008.  Since Montgomery is the most populous of Philadelphia’s suburban counties, this will likely turn into a regional battle, putting Morganelli at a distinct disadvantage.  The Lehigh Valley (Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, and their surrounding rural areas and suburbs) is in many ways a microcosm of the state, with liberal cities, conservative rural areas, declining industrial areas, growing suburbs, and a burgeoning Hispanic population, but it tends to have an insular, provincial mentality (to be honest, that’s another way it resembles the state as a whole) that limits the interaction between its politicians and the rest of the state and tends to make it a poor springboard for statewide office.*
Zappala has some endorsements from Philadelphia: the mayor, several state legislators, and Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, who used to represent part of Philadelphia in the State Senate.  (He doesn’t have any major endorsements from the suburban counties, though.)  Shapiro, running as a crusading progressive, has the endorsement of Gov. Wolf, President Obama, environmental groups, and the state teachers’ and nurses’ unions.
The general election is probably a tossup.  The Republicans have their long track record in the office and Kathleen Kane’s scandals working in their favor; the Democrats have a voter registration edge and the chaos going on in the Republican presidential race.
            The fall matchups for the other two row offices are already set: Reading businessman Otto Voit (R) against former ambassador Joe Torsella (D) for state treasurer and Northampton County executive John Brown (R) against incumbent Eugene DePasquale (D) for auditor general.  The Democrats are probably slight favorites in these races.

General Assembly

            All 203 of Pennsylvania’s state House districts and twenty-five of its fifty state Senate seats are up for election this year, but I won’t bore you with the details of all of them.  There’s also a special election in the ninth Senate district, located along the Delaware border southwest of Philadelphia.  The vote is to replace former state Sen. Dominic PIleggi, a moderate Republican who conservatives ousted as majority leader after the 2014 election.  PIleggi ran for a county judicial post the next year, won, and resigned his Senate seat.  (Interestingly, since Pileggi was mayor of Chester before being elected to the state Senate, he has served in all three branches of government.)  The candidates to replace him are Democrat Marty Malloy, a former nonprofit executive, and Republican State Rep. Tom Killion. 
The area has been trending Democratic, but still tends to elect Republicans at the local level, making the election a tossup. Whichever party wins will claim momentum heading into November, and the results will be taken as a gauge of Gov. Tom Wolf’s popularity after a long budget crisis (particularly since Malloy is running as a Wolf ally). 
Two primaries in the Philadelphia area bear watching.  One is in the fifth Senate district in northeast Philadelphia, where state Rep. Kevin Boyle is challenging state Sen. John Sabatina, a fellow Democrat.  This is the latest chapter in an ongoing feud between U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, Kevin’s brother, and Lt. Gov. Mike Stack, who used to hold the seat.  If the primary splits Democrats enough, it could be an opening for Republican Ross Feinberg in the general election.   Northeast Philadelphia is the only part of the city with a viable Republican party, and as a predominantly white, working-class, socially moderate area, it’s an place where Donald Trump could actually do better than a typical Republican if he ends up as the nominee. 
The other is in the 164th House district, just outside Philadelphia in Delaware County.  The incumbent, Democrat Margo Davidson, is a fairly standard liberal except for stances favoring school choice and opposing abortion, which was influenced by her cousin dying at the hands of infamous abortion provider Kermit Gosnell.  These stances earned her a primary challenge in 2014 and again this year, now from Upper Darby Township councilwoman Sekela Coles.  The teachers’ union and Planned Parenthood have thrown their weight behind Coles, and the party committee is staying neutral (in 2014, they backed Davidson).
Republicans hold a 30-19 majority in the state Senate and a 119-84 majority in the state House.  They will definitely hold on to the Senate: there simply aren’t six seats that could plausibly swing from Republican to Democratic, even if Hillary Clinton carries the state handily, and Democrats have a few vulnerable seats in the central and western parts of the state.  House elections are harder to predict, but Democrats would need the largest net gain for any party since 1978 to take over the chamber. 

In conclusion, I’ll leave you with this traditional Pennsylvanian blessing:

May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine gently on your face,
The rain fall soft upon your fields,
And until we meet again,

May none of the assistant coaches at your favorite college football team turn out to be a pervert. 

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