There are 18 congressional races in Pennsylvania. But in the final days of the campaign, just two of them are believed to be competitive, according to nonpartisan analysts and strategists in both parties.
Pennsylvania Democrats are seeking reelection in two districts Donald Trump carried in 2016 and another where Hillary Clinton won by just 1 percentage point. But while Republicans began the election cycle optimistic they could flip at least one of those seats, polling and advertising data suggest that’s unlikely to happen. That’s good news for Democratic Reps. Conor Lamb, Matt Cartwright, and Susan Wild.
“We feel confident they’re going to be coming back,” U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos (D., Ill.), chair of the House Democrats' campaign arm, told reporters last week.
That’s part of the reason why nonpartisan election analysts believe Democrats — who currently hold a 232-197 majority in the House — will almost certainly retain control of the chamber, and might even expand their advantage.
The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates Perry’s race in south-central Pennsylvania as a “Toss Up,” and Fitzpatrick’s district north of Philadelphia as “Lean Republican.”
“Pennsylvania voters are ready to reject House Democrats' socialist agenda that has focused on raising taxes, destroying jobs, and promoting the type of violence we have seen terrorize communities,” said Michael McAdams, a spokesperson for the House GOP campaign arm.
While Democrats' control of the House seems locked in, the stakes may well be higher in Pennsylvania races. In the unlikely but not-impossible event that neither President Donald Trump nor Joe Biden wins a clear, undisputed majority of at least 270 votes in the Electoral College, the presidential election would go to a vote in the House of Representatives in January.
Each state congressional delegation would then cast one vote. Republicans currently control 26 delegations, while Democrats hold the edge in 22, despite their overall majority.
Pennsylvania’s delegation is split 9-9. So a Democratic pickup could, in theory, help Biden win. But Democrats would have to make gains in other delegations, too.
Here are the House races to watch.
The last Republican standing in the Philly suburbs
The Bucks County-based 1st District is a perennial battleground.
Fitzpatrick, who survived the 2018 Democratic wave that wiped out suburban GOP incumbents across the country, is one of just two Republicans seeking reelection in a district carried by Clinton in 2016.
Democrats expect to perform better than Clinton, based on the party’s internal polling, which shows the former vice president with a double-digit lead over Trump in the district. Democrats hold a narrow registration advantage in the district.
Running for a third term against Democrat Christina Finello, Fitzpatrick is campaigning as a “problem solver” in Washington and highlighting a record that the Lugar Center and Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy rank as the most bipartisan of any member of the House.
Finello, an Ivyland Borough councilmember and deputy director of the Bucks County Division of Housing and Human Services, is pitching herself to voters as “a working mom” who would lower health care costs.
She accuses Fitzpatrick of failing to stand up to Trump, citing his support for the 2017 GOP tax cuts.
Fitzpatrick’s campaign has raised twice as much money as Finello’s, though the Democrat saw a boost in the quarter that ended Sept. 30.
And Fitzpatrick has had the advantage on the airwaves in Philadelphia’s expensive media market. Since Sept. 1, Fitzpatrick’s campaign and outside GOP groups have spent about $6 million on TV commercials, compared to $4.2 million spent by Finello and Democratic groups, according to the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics.
The GOP has sought to tie Finello to some Black Lives Matter activists' calls to “defund the police.” In TV ads, the GOP points to an endorsement Finello received from the abortion rights group Planned Parenthood, which has said it supports the cause.
Finello has repeatedly said she opposes defunding the police.
Democrats are leaning into Fitzpatrick’s party label. “One congressman from our area voted for Donald Trump’s agenda: Brian Fitzpatrick,” says the narrator in an ad funded by the House Democrats' campaign arm.
Ali Anderson, Finello’s campaign manager, said the district was “ready to elect a leader who will always put the priorities of middle-class families first.” Finello, she said, would “unequivocally stand up for affordable health care, COVID relief, and reproductive freedom.”
Kate Constantini, a Fitzpatrick campaign spokesperson, said the congressman’s “long list of endorsements from union workers and small business owners, to first responders and environmental champions, and people of all political ideologies, shows the overwhelming support our campaign is receiving.”
A Trump ally against a moderate Democrat
In the 10th District, Republican Rep. Scott Perry, an Iraq War veteran, is facing a challenge from Democrat Eugene DePasquale, the Pennsylvania state auditor general.
The district, located in the south-central part of the state, has attracted the most spending of any congressional race in Pennsylvania, and Democrats see it as one of their best opportunities in the country to pick up a seat.
First elected in 2012 in a heavily Republican district, Perry cruised to reelection several times.
In 2018, however, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the state’s congressional map was an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The court imposed a new map, and Perry’s district was redrawn to include all of Harrisburg, York, and Carlisle, which lean Democratic.
He won that year by less than 3 percentage points.
This time, the parties have poured $10.3 million into TV ads since Sept. 1, with Democrats holding a narrow edge, according to Advertising Analytics. DePasquale has raised $3.8 million, slightly outpacing Perry.
Perry, a conservative Trump ally, has campaigned as a budget hawk, highlighted his military service, and portrayed DePasquale as a liberal ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
A GOP super PAC has aired commercials about DePasquale’s relationship with John J. Dougherty, the Philadelphia Electricians' union leader who is under federal indictment on bribery and embezzlement charges. Dougherty has pleaded not guilty. “Career politician Eugene DePasquale has flocked with some bad company,” the narrator says in one ad.
DePasquale and his allies have tried to make healthcare the top issue in the race, highlighting Perry’s votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage or charging higher rates against people with preexisting medical conditions.
“When Scott Perry goes to Washington, he does not go to work for you,” the narrator says in a 30-second spot funded by a Democratic super PAC, which portrays him as a sellout to corporate special interests.
Most congressional races just aren’t all that competitive, based on party registrations, demographics, and geography. Republicans aren’t going to win in Philadelphia, and Democrats don’t have a shot in most of central Pennsylvania.
There are a few other races worth watching, however.
In Northeastern Pennsylvania, Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright is running for a fifth term in the 8th District, which Trump carried by about 10 points. With Trump again on the ballot, the GOP hoped Republican Jim Bognet could beat Cartwright.
But top GOP groups haven’t invested much in the race, and Bognet’s campaign released a poll earlier this month showing him trailing by 5 points. More striking: Biden led Trump in the district by 2 points, within the poll’s margin of error.
It’s a similar story in Western Pennsylvania, where Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb is seeking reelection in a district Trump carried by almost 3 points. Lamb and Democratic groups are outspending Republican Sean Parnell and GOP groups on the airwaves in the 17th District.
The Cook Political Report rates both races as “Lean Democratic.”
Finally, in the Lehigh Valley-based 7th District, Democratic Rep. Susan Wild is running against Republican Lisa Scheller. Clinton narrowly carried the district four years ago.
Wild has the advantage on the airwaves and has led comfortably in public polls.