Pennsylvania primaries to set match-ups in House battlegrounds

Bridget Bowman, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON -- Pennsylvania will be a crucial battleground in the presidential race, and the Keystone State will also host a handful of competitive House races in 2020, including some the GOP considers critical to winning back the House.

Republicans need a net gain of 17 seats to win the majority, and they're hoping to get some of them in Pennsylvania, where Democrats are defending two districts that President Donald Trump won and one that he narrowly lost. But Republicans are also on defense, with Democrats targeting three GOP seats.

Since the primaries were postponed from April 28 to Tuesday because of the coronavirus pandemic, the contests have been fairly quiet. The House primaries haven't attracted much outside spending or involvement, aside from President Donald Trump endorsing two candidates over the weekend.

But the races could pick up once the match-ups are set. Outside groups involved in House races have already reserved more than $18 million in airtime for the fall in Pennsylvania's media markets, with the bulk of those reservations in the Philadelphia market, which also covers competitive races in New Jersey.

Over the weekend, Trump tweeted support for two Republicans taking on Pennsylvania Democrats: Army veteran Sean Parnell, who is challenging Rep. Conor Lamb in the 17th District; and former Lehigh County Commissioner Lisa Scheller, who is challenging Rep. Susan Wild in the 7th District.

Parnell does not face a primary in the 17th District, which includes the Pittsburgh suburbs. Trump would have carried the district by 2 percentage points had the current congressional map been in place in 2016. The state's congressional lines were redrawn in 2018 because of a redistricting lawsuit.

After winning a high-profile special election in March 2018, Lamb, a Marine veteran, easily defeated GOP Rep. Keith Rothfus by 13 points in the new 17th District that November. Lamb has a sizable financial advantage with more than $1 million in his campaign account as of May 13, while Parnell had $384,000. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Likely Democratic.

In the 7th District, which is based in the Lehigh Valley, Scheller is running against Dean Browning, also a former county commissioner, for the GOP nomination. Trump's endorsement is expected to boost Scheller. She has raised more than $1 million for her campaign, but spent much of it leading up to the primary. Her campaign had $274,000 as of May 13.

Republicans have touted Scheller as a top recruit. She revealed in 2018 that had previously battled drug and alcohol addiction, and opened a coffee shop to help recovering addicts. She has endorsements from Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and GOP women's groups including VIEW PAC, Winning for Women and E-PAC, which is led by New York GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik.

Scheller could face a tough race against Wild, who won the open seat race in 2018 in a district Trump would have lost by 2 points. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Democrat.

With his backing likely to boost Parnell and Scheller, Trump notably did not take sides in another race on the GOP battlefield, the six-candidate 8th District primary to pick a challenger to Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright.

Republicans believe Cartwright is vulnerable in the Scranton-based district, which Trump would have won by 9 points in 2016. Cartwright defeated a well-funded challenger in 2018 by 9 points, although Republicans believe Trump at the top of the ticket this year would make the race competitive. But Trump may not carry the area so easily in November, since former Vice President Joe Biden has roots in Scranton.

A Fox News poll of registered Pennsylvania voters in mid-April found Biden leading Trump 50 percent to 42 percent statewide, and 55 percent to 39 percent among suburban voters.

Of the candidates that are vying to take on Cartwright, four raised more than $100,000. McCarthy has endorsed Earl Granville, a veteran of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard who lost a leg serving in Afghanistan.

One of the other top candidates, political consultant Jim Bognet, previously worked for the Export-Import Bank as a Trump appointee. The other top fundraisers in the primary include former Hazleton Mayor Mike Marsicano and Army veteran Teddy Daniels.


Inside Elections rates the 8th District race Likely Democratic.

sDemocrats are eyeing three opportunities to flip House seats in Pennsylvania, although one may prove more elusive because ofrecruitment issues.

At first glance, Democrats' best opportunity should be in the 1st District, since GOP Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is one of two Republicans running for reelection in districts Hillary Clinton carried in 2016. But Democrats have struggled to recruit a candidate there.

The top Democratic fundraiser, school board member Debbie Wachspress, dropped out of the race shortly after the filing deadline, amid allegations she used racist and homophobic slurs at a school board meeting. Wachspress denied the allegations, but ended her campaign because of the toll on her family. She endorsed Ivyland Borough councilwoman Christina Finello, who has also been endorsed by the Bucks County Democrats. Finello faces businessman Skylar Hurwitz in the primary.

Fitzpatrick still could face a competitive race given the suburban nature of the district, which Clinton would have won by 2 points. But he has a financial advantage in the pricey Philadelphia media market. As of May 13, Fitzpatrick's campaign had nearly $1.7 million on hand, while Finello had $82,000 and Hurwitz had $1,700. Inside Elections rates the 1st District race Tilts Republican.

Democrats may have a better shot at GOP Rep. Scott Perry in the 10th District, which includes Harrrisburg. Perry is among the most vulnerable House members due to a combination of a more Democratic-leaning district and the Democratic recruit.

State Auditor Eugene DePasquale is running to take on Perry, and Democrats believe he is a strong contender after narrowly carrying the district in his statewide race. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added DePasquale to its Red to Blue program for strong challengers.

DePasquale has nearly matched Perry's fundraising, with $703,000 in his campaign account to Perry's $723,000 as of May 13. But to take on Perry, DePasquale first has to defeat attorney Tom Brier. Both candidates have launched TV ads in the primary. Inside Elections rates the 10th District race Tilts Republican.

The DCCC also listed GOP Rep. Mike Kelly on its initial 2020 target list after he faced a closer contest in 2018 than expected. Kelly won reelection by 4 points in the new 16th District district, which Trump would have won by 20 points.

Teacher Kristy Gnibus, is running unopposed in the Democratic primary to take on Kelly. She had just $19,000 in her campaign account as of May 13, while Kelly had $966,000. Inside Elections rates the race Solid Republican.

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