Casey-Barletta race in ’18 will be watched closely by Trump
Pennsylvania sage Ben Franklin once assured us that death and taxes were the only certainties; if Franklin were still among us, he surely would have added mid-term election angst to his list of sure things.
To more and more Americans, health care matters, taxes matter, our criminal justice system matters, issues of war and peace matter, and, in particular, politics matters.
Not surprisingly then, despite the fact we are only some eight months past the 2016 elections, the upcoming 2018 midterm elections are well underway.
The GOP should be in trouble, but they may not be. Despite the normal historical pattern of midterm carnage, major reversals and loss of congressional seats for the president’s party cannot be assumed in 2018. One reason for this is that decades of gerrymandering compounded by the electorates growing polarization has dramatically reduced the number of competitive House districts.
Democrats need but 24 seats to regain the House in 2018. But even with an unpopular president in the White House, the legacy of gerrymandering suggests this will be a heavy lift. Adding to the 2018 uncertainty is the issue of President Trump’s job performance, a metric now hovering about 38 percent positive.
But, winning back the senate may be even a harder task for Democrats. They must defend 25 seats of the 33 up for election and 10 of those 25 seats are in states won by Trump in 2016.
Pennsylvania’s role in all of this may be pivotal. If a “Democratic wave” develops in 2018, several GOP House seats are potentially at risk.
Some early assessments of Pennsylvania’s 18 congressional seats identify four Republican seats as vulnerable to a Democratic challenge. Lou Jacobson, a senior author for the Almanac of American Politics, has identified Ryan Costello (6th), Pat Meehan (7th), Brian Fitzpatrick (8th) and Lloyd Smucker (16th) as in danger.
The first three in the list are suburban seats trending Democratic over the last decade. The fourth seat (Smucker) is still rural but its suburbs are growing.
On the senate side the seat held by Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey Jr. is widely considered safe next year. The senator has won five elections for three different statewide offices. Four of these five victories have come by double digits.
Despite Casey’s electoral strength, this senate race could still become one of the most closely watched in the country — if as expected one of the president’s most ardent Pennsylvania supporters runs.
Poised to seek the seat is Congressman Lou Barletta. Barletta co-chaired the Trump campaign in the state, served on the president-elect’s transition team and votes consistently in Congress for the Trump agenda.
Sen. Casey has emerged as one of Trump’s harshest critics, with daily critical press statements and a rising national prominence tied to his opposition to Trump.
Conversely, Barletta would be seen as a Trump surrogate drawing both the president’s support and opposition.
Consequently, a Casey-Barletta race would inevitably be seen as a referendum on the Trump presidency in a state that critically aided his victory in 2016.
A Casey win in 2018 against Barletta will be an ominous portent for Trump looking to 2020, but a Barletta win will auger auspiciously for Trump and his chances to win Pennsylvania a second time.
In 2016, Pennsylvania returned to its battleground state status helping deliver the presidency to Trump.
In 2018, Trump won’t be on the ballot, but Pennsylvania may still be a battleground.