Casey-Bar­letta race in ’18 will be watched closely by Trump

The Phoenix - - OPINION - G. Terry Madonna is pro­fes­sor of pub­lic af­fairs at Franklin & Mar­shall Col­lege, and Michael Young is a for­mer pro­fes­sor of pol­i­tics and pub­lic af­fairs at Penn State Uni­ver­sity and man­ag­ing part­ner of Michael Young Strate­gic Re­search. Madonna and Young can

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.

To­more 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 2018midter­m­elec­tions 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 ger­ry­man- de­r­ing 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.

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