Ten years ago, Pennsylvania Republicans got ambitious in drawing new congressional district lines, spreading their target voters too thin in an effort to pick up more seats. It worked, for a while, but later in the decade the blue-trending swing state snapped back to its partisan baseline.
Initial news reports about the new decennial redraw, dropped by GOP legislative leaders in Harrisburg last week, called it a “coup” and a “strong map” that would set the Republicans up to build on their 12-7 edge in the congressional delegation even as the number of House districts drops to 18 because of slow population growth.
The party did manage to strengthen a pair of Republican freshmen in northeastern Pennsylvania – Rep. Lou Barletta in the 11th District, and Rep. Tom Marino in the 10th District, particularly by putting Scranton and Wilkes-Barre into a new 17th District, now represented by Democratic Rep. Tim Holden.
But the key swing districts in suburban Philadelphia and the Lehigh Valley don’t look to get much more Republican in performance, based on recent election returns.
President Obama won the newly drawn Eighth District of Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick (R) with 54 percent of the vote in 2008. Democrat John Kerry carried it in 2004 with 50.7 percent, and Sen. Bob Casey (D) got 57.8 percent in 2006.
In Republican Rep. Jim Gerlach’s Sixth District: Obama got 53.5 percent; 46.7 percent for Kerry; and 54.8 percent for Casey.
The Seventh District held by Rep. Pat Meehan (R) was carved up more than any other to try to make the freshman safer, but it appears the new district will be about as competitive as the old: Obama, 51.9 percent; 48.4 percent for Kerry; Casey, 55.4 percent.
In the 15th District of Rep. Charlie Dent (R) of Allentown: Obama, 52.8 percent; Kerry, 46.2 percent; and Casey, 53.8 percent.
“Did they get a point or two more Republican? Absolutely,” said Josh Schwerin, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “But if you do the numbers, they’re still the types of seats Democrats can win. They will absolutely be competitive for the next 10 years no matter what anyone says.”