State’s year in po­lit­i­cal spot­light com­ing to end

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - NEWS - By Mark Scol­foro and Marc Levy

HAR­RIS­BURG >> Penn­syl­va­nia vot­ers can’t say they’ve been ig­nored this year, given the state’s sta­tus as a premier bat­tle­ground in the pres­i­den­tial race and the site of a hotly con­tested cam­paign for U.S. Se­nate.

The dozens of vis­its by Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton and Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump, or their sur­ro­gates, are end­ing, along with TV cam­paign ads that have be­come in­escapable in re­cent months.

The Se­nate race be­tween Repub­li­can in­cum­bent U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and Demo­crat Katie McGinty has been neck-and-neck, and the out­come could de­ter­mine whether Repub­li­cans re­tain their ma­jor­ity in the cham­ber.

There are also a slew of con­tested leg­isla­tive races up for grabs. Repub­li­cans aren’t likely to lose their solid ma­jori­ties in both the House and Se­nate, but Democrats are hop­ing to chip away at the mar­gins.

Here’s what the state’s vot­ers can ex­pect Tues­day, when polls open at 7 a.m.:

Pres­i­dent

De­spite con­cen­trat­ing money and ef­fort in Penn­syl­va­nia, Trump has strug­gled to over­come a mod­est but sturdy lead by Clin­ton in the polls. The base of Clin­ton’s sup­port is in the Philadel­phia and Pitts­burgh re­gions, while Trump is get­ting his strong­est sup­port in western, cen­tral and north­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia.

The last Repub­li­can to win Penn­syl­va­nia in a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion was Ge­orge H.W. Bush in 1988. No Demo­crat has won the White House with­out Penn­syl­va­nia’s sup­port since 1948.

U.S. Se­nate

Demo­crat Katie McGinty is chal­leng­ing first-term Repub­li­can Sen. Pat Toomey for the next six-year term in the U.S. Se­nate. Also qual­i­fy­ing for the bal­lot is Lib­er­tar­ian Ed­ward Clif­ford. Polls show a close race be­tween McGinty and Toomey in a con­test that could tip con­trol of the cham­ber next year. Spend­ing on the race is on track to pass $160 mil­lion in one of the na­tion’s most closely watched and ex­pen­sive Se­nate cam­paigns.

Con­gres­sional races

There are 15 con­tested races for Penn­syl­va­nia’s 18 seats in the U.S. House, with vot­ers re­plac­ing two re­tir­ing mem­bers — Repub­li­cans Joe Pitts and Mike Fitz­patrick — while Demo­crat Chaka Fat­tah re­signed in June fol­low­ing his con­vic­tion in a fed­eral rack­e­teer­ing case. The most hotly con­tested race, in sub­ur­ban Philadel­phia’s closely di­vided 8th Dis­trict, is be­tween Demo­cratic state Rep. Steve San­tar­siero and Fitz­patrick’s brother, Brian Fitz­patrick, a Repub­li­can. Penn­syl­va­nia’s cur­rent U.S. House del­e­ga­tion is 13 Repub­li­cans and five Democrats, in­clud­ing Fat­tah’s seat.

At­tor­ney gen­eral

Demo­cratic At­tor­ney Gen­eral Kath­leen Kane re­signed in Au­gust after be­ing con­victed of leak­ing se­cret grand jury ma­te­rial to a re­porter and ly­ing about it. Demo­cratic Gov. Tom Wolf nom­i­nated her one-time top aide, Bruce Beemer, to lead the agency in the in­terim.

The con­test to take over the 800-em­ployee of­fice, and be­come the state’s top-rank­ing law en­force­ment of­fi­cer, is be­tween Demo­crat Josh Shapiro, an elected com­mis­sioner in Mont­gomery County, and Repub­li­can state Sen. John Raf­ferty, also from Mont­gomery County.

Trea­surer

Demo­crat Joe Torsella, a for­mer chair­man of the State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion, and Repub­li­can Otto Voit, a busi­ness­man, are seek­ing the of­fice. Also on the bal­lot are the Green Party’s Kristin Combs and the Lib­er­tar­ian Party’s James Babb. The cur­rent state trea­surer, Ti­mothy A. Reese, was nom­i­nated by Wolf to serve the rest of Rob McCord’s term. McCord stepped down as trea­surer last year be­fore plead­ing guilty to fed­eral at­tempted ex­tor­tion charges.

The trea­surer over­sees the Trea­sury Department, a 360-em­ployee agency that pro­cesses $90 bil­lion in pay­ments ev­ery year to state em­ploy­ees, pen­sion­ers, schools, hos­pi­tals, con­trac­tors and oth­ers. It’s the cus­to­dian of more than $100 bil­lion in pub­lic money, in­clud­ing pen­sion funds.

Au­di­tor gen­eral

Au­di­tor Gen­eral Eugene DePasquale faces three chal­lengers as he seeks a sec­ond term as the state’s fis­cal watch­dog. Tak­ing on the Demo­cratic in­cum­bent are Repub­li­can John Brown, Green Party nom­i­nee John J. Sweeney and Lib­er­tar­ian Roy Minet. The 400-plus em­ployee of­fice mon­i­tors gov­ern­ment spend­ing and ac­tiv­ity, and sug­gests ways to im­prove op­er­a­tions and poli­cies.

Leg­is­la­ture

Repub­li­cans hold strong mar­gins in both cham­bers of the Gen­eral Assem­bly, and it’s highly un­likely they will lose ei­ther ma­jor­ity this year. In the Se­nate, GOP strate­gists say they could add to their 31 to 19 mar­gin, given that Democrats have more seats to de­fend. The House, cur­rently 119-84 in fa­vor of Repub­li­cans, will al­most cer­tainly see some seats change par­ties, as the large Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity plays de­fense in south­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia’s swing dis­tricts.

Ju­di­cial re­tire­ment age

Vot­ers will have to de­cide whether to change the state con­sti­tu­tion to raise the manda­tory re­tire­ment age from 70 to 75 for about 1,000 judges statewide.

Sup­port­ers ar­gue that judges have spe­cial­ized knowl­edge and many peo­ple are able to work pro­duc­tively into their 70s. Op­po­nents say it can be dif­fi­cult to re­move a judge who has lost the men­tal ca­pac­ity to do what can be a chal­leng­ing job.

If the pro­posal fails, Repub­li­can Chief Jus­tice Thomas Say­lor will have to re­tire at the end of next month and Demo­cratic Jus­tice Max Baer by the end of next year. The vote will also have im­pli­ca­tions for county judges.

The bal­lot ref­er­en­dum was on the spring pri­mary bal­lot and nar­rowly lost. The re­sults weren’t of­fi­cial, how­ever, be­cause shortly be­fore the April pri­mary, law­mak­ers rushed through a mea­sure that in­val­i­dated any re­sults and put off the of­fi­cial vote un­til the Novem­ber elec­tion.

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