As cam­paign cash rolls in, 2 House races tilt to Dems

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

HARRISBURG » Money is start­ing to pour into Penn­syl­va­nia’s midterm con­gres­sional races and, with the GOP’s con­trol of the U.S. House on the line, omi­nous signs are sur­fac­ing for Repub­li­cans in races that sev­eral months ago had been con­sid­ered even con­tests.

Repub­li­can groups, in­clud­ing the Na­tional Repub­li­can Con­gres­sional Com­mit­tee, have be­gun air­ing TV attack ads to pro­tect fresh­man Repub­li­can Rep. Brian Fitz­patrick in subur­ban Philadel­phia and to try to oust three-term Demo­cratic Rep. Matt Cartwright in north­east­ern Penn­syl­va­nia, where Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump did un­ex­pect­edly well in 2016.

But Repub­li­can groups are not spend­ing money — yet, any­way — in two closely watched con­tests: one in subur­ban Pitts­burgh and one in the Al­len­town area that had been viewed as tossups af­ter May’s pri­mary elec­tion.

Penn­syl­va­nia, with 18 con­gres­sional seats, is a cru­cial build­ing block in the Demo­cratic ef­fort to wipe out the GOP’s 23-seat House ma­jor­ity, and Democrats have rea­son to be op­ti­mistic about cap­tur­ing sev­eral seats.

Polls are find­ing that Demo­cratic vot­ers in­flamed by Trump are more en­thu­si­as­tic about vot­ing in the Nov. 6 elec­tion, and a cour­tordered re­drawn map of dis­trict bound­aries is giv­ing them hope in places they had had lit­tle be­fore.

“For all those years we had five con­gress­peo­ple out of 18 and that meant that only five dis­tricts in Penn­syl­va­nia iden­ti­fied Demo­crat­i­cally,” Nancy Pat­ton Mills, the state Demo­cratic Party chair­woman, told a party din­ner crowd ear­lier this month. “And now, we have 18 dis­tricts and they’re all in play.”

Un­der the old dis­tricts, Repub­li­cans won 13 of Penn­syl­va­nia’s 18 seats in three straight elec­tions, but newly drawn subur­ban seats around Philadel­phia and Pitts­burgh, in par­tic­u­lar, are within their grasp.

In two open Repub­li­can seats in subur­ban Philadel­phia, Democrats Chrissy Houla­han and Mary Gay Scanlon, both first-time can­di­dates, are heavy fa­vorites.

In an Al­len­town-area seat, Demo­crat Su­san Wild and Repub­li­can Marty Noth­stein are vy­ing for an open seat, and an­a­lysts had once viewed the con­test as even.

But Wild has a sub­stan­tial cash ad­van­tage, and a new Mon­mouth Univer­sity poll shows Wild ahead in a close race, even though it said nei­ther can­di­date is par­tic­u­larly well-known.

Noth­stein strate­gist Mark Har­ris said the cam­paign is fo­cused on what it can achieve on its own, even if Repub­li­can groups have not com­mit­ted money to the race.

“I’m con­fi­dent that when peo­ple are needed in a close race they’ll be there, but all we can do is fo­cus on get­ting Marty’s com­mon­sense mes­sage out there about fix­ing bro­ken Wash­ing­ton,” Har­ris said.

In subur­ban Pitts­burgh, newly minted Rep. Conor Lamb is chal­leng­ing three­term Repub­li­can Rep. Keith Roth­fus in a quirk of the new court-or­dered dis­tricts that pits the two in­cum­bents against each other.

Vot­ers in the dis­trict gave Trump a slight edge in 2016’s pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. But a Mon­mouth Univer­sity poll in Au­gust found Lamb sub­stan­tially ahead of Roth­fus, likely aided by the $6 mil­lion-plus Lamb and Democrats spent to carry him to a nar­row, na­tion­ally watched vic­tory in a March spe­cial elec­tion in a solidly Repub­li­can dis­trict.

Roth­fus back­ers in­sist he shouldn’t be counted out.

“I think peo­ple un­der­es­ti­mate Keith,” said Penn­syl­va­nia’s Repub­li­can House Speaker Mike Turzai, who lives in the dis­trict. “He’s a very tire­less worker and cam­paigner; he’s well-liked on a per­sonal level.”

The Na­tional Repub­li­can Con­gres­sional Com­mit­tee post­poned a sched­uled TV ad buy from Septem­ber to Oc­to­ber. A spokesman, Chris Martin, de­clined to pub­licly dis­cuss cam­paign strat­egy, but said the NRCC had not re­duced the amount of money it re­served to help Roth­fus by “one penny.”

On Satur­day, Trump is­sued an en­dorse­ment of Roth­fus on Twit­ter, say­ing he “is strong on Crime, the Border, and our Sec­ond Amend­ment. Loves our Mil­i­tary and our Vets.”

In the mean­time, both Roth­fus and Lamb avoid men­tion­ing Trump in their TV ads. Roth­fus is air­ing an attack ad that asks, “Who’s Conor Lamb pro­tect­ing?”

For his part, Lamb at­tacks “spe­cial in­ter­ests” in an ad that re­counts his spe­cial elec­tion vic­tory: “It was the long­est of long shots, a Ma­rine who had never held of­fice up against the most pow­er­ful spe­cial in­ter­ests in the na­tion. ... Now Conor’s run­ning again and the same out­side groups are back with all their money.”

A Pitts­burgh-area Demo­cratic cam­paign con­sul­tant, Mike Mikus, said he ex­pects a solid vic­tory by Lamb, buoyed by Demo­cratic vot­ers in small cities along the Ohio River, subur­ban Repub­li­cans who are re­pulsed by Trump and dis­af­fected Democrats who backed Trump over Hil­lary Clin­ton.

“If I were the Repub­li­cans,” Mikus said, “I wouldn’t spend a dime here.”

Conor Lamb

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