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Off-Year Election, Turnout a Big Factor

One Governor, half of the State Senate, the state’s Congressional delegation and all 203 state House seats will be filled in this fall’s election November 4. The question remains as to what changes will occur and whether those changes will impact how either Harrisburg or Washington works in 2015-2016.

The 2014 election is considered an “off-year” election.  Voting percentages tend to drop significantly during these years, with turnout well below levels expected in years where voters elect a president.  In 2008, for instance, 57.1% of the voting-age population cast ballots — the highest level in four. Two years later in 2010, only 36.9% voted in the midterm election.  But these elections can determine the future policies of the state, as well as control of Congress.

Governor Corbett has trailed former Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf by as many as 27 points in polls this summer and fall, but recent polling suggests Wolf’s call for income tax changes have become a liability, as Corbett appears to be narrowing the gap considerably.
The state’s Congressional delegation, split 13-5 Republican, much thanks to the 2012 reapportionment, appears likely to remain 13-5, as Democratic hopes for picking up two seats in southeastern PA have faded this fall.
In the General Assembly, after more than a year’s delay and a trail of paperwork that spanned a census, redistricting votes, lawsuits, and more redistricting, Pennsylvania is finally ready to test out its new state House and Senate districts. But regardless of the process that led to the final redistricting plan, ERG does not foresee major changes in composition of the State House and Senate, and Republicans appear likely to maintain control of both chambers.
During this midterm election, all even numbered Senate seats and all House seats are on the ballot. Out of the 25 even-numbered Senate seats, nine incumbents – five Republicans and four Democrats – are unopposed. Of the 203 House seats on the ballot, more than half – 108 Representatives are running unopposed.
In other words, 117 of the 228 Senate and House seats to be voted on this cycle have just one candidate on the ballot.
Republicans hold a narrow margin in the Senate, with 27 members, compared to 23 Democrats.  But Democrats are hoping Governor Corbett’s unpopularity, combined with several contests in the eastern part of the state that might be more favorable to Democratic candidates, will translate to Democratic wins in November.
Republicans, who also have a majority in the House, believe their party can pick up seats and make gains in the Senate, due to the demographics of the Democratic-held seats on the ballot. They also have high hopes for the race in a newly created district in the Pocono Mountain region where Rep. Mario Scavello has shown consistent double digit leads in polls.  Republican incumbents in the 26th, 36th, and 50th districts are not running for re-election.
The 26th district, held by Sen. Ted Erickson, covers part of Delaware and Chester counties. The district is Republican leaning, but voter turnout has trended toward Democrats. This seat is probably the Democrat’s best hope for a take-away this election cycle if candidate John Kane can best Tom McGarrigle. Democrats had also targeted two other Bucks County seats, which now appear to be relatively safe for Republican incumbents.
Democrat incumbents in the 32nd and 38th districts are also retiring. The 38th, as a result of reapportionment, has an unopposed incumbent Republican Senator, Randy Vulakovich.  The 32nd, held by Sen. Rich Kasunic, contains all of Fayette and Somerset counties and the seat may be the Republican’s best hope for a gain this election cycle if Republican candidate Pat Stefano can best Democratic State Rep. Deb Kula.  Some Republicans are also hoping for an upset in a race for the 46th Senate district now held by Sen. Tim Solobay in Washington and Greene Counties.
In the State House of Representatives, 13 members are retiring (9 R / 4 D); 4 are still in the running for state Senate (3 R / 1 D), and 6 lost their primary races for House or Senate (2 R / 4 D).
Transportation Chair Nick Micozzie’s seat in Delaware County is seen as competitive and may turn from red to blue for the first time in 36 years since he first took office. Other interesting races to watch include Rep. Mike Fleck of Huntingdon County who lost his GOP primary but won the Democratic slot via write in.
As with any state election, retirements and turnovers create opportunities to shakeup caucus leadership and change committee chairs. With unrest in both the Senate and House Republican caucuses, expect changes – or at least an internal struggle for big changes. ERG will follow those changes and internal caucus elections in the coming months. What we know now is that House Republicans will be electing new leadership with the retirement of House Speaker Sam Smith (R-Jefferson). And in the Senate, some of the more conservative members have started to publicly challenge the leadership of Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware).
It all comes down to voter turnout. Be sure to vote on November 4!