Open Seat Watch: Pennsylvania’s 11th District

In Pennsylvania, the Desk’s favorite state, we recently got some Senate news; Rep. Lou Barletta (R) sounds like he’ll be challenging Sen. Bob Casey, Jr. (D). Barletta, first elected in 2010, was an early, and unapologetic, supporter of the President. Casey is known as a moderate Democrat; he’s benefited from the legacy of his late father, who was a very popular Governor. While we’ll be discussing the Senate race frequently, here’s an analysis of the district that Barletta will be leaving behind.

PA-11, for at least the past century, has been centered on Wilkes-Barre in northeastern PA. At the Desk, we often call this area ‘Bidenland’, as the former Vice President’s childhood there exemplifies the region’s working class flavor. PA-11 was often a compact seat, sometimes even coterminous with Luzerne County. However, in the most recent round of redistricting, Republicans drew it so that it now encroaches on the Harrisburg metro area. The result is what our contributor Jeff Ditzler pointed out looks something like a bodybuilder’s arm:

Overall, the district is split roughly evenly between Luzerne County, the Harrisburg metro, and the counties in between:

Demographically, the district is overwhelmingly white, at 86% as of 2015. Further, among whites in the district, only 28% hold a college degree to 72% who don’t. As PA-11 was drawn to include the relatively wealthy Harrisburg suburbs in 2011, most of the college-educated whites here are fairly new to the district.

As the demographics would suggest, PA-11 was extremely fertile ground for then-candidate Trumps’ populism. By the time of the Pennsylvania Primary, his only remaining opponents were Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. John Kasich. Statewide, he took 58% to Cruz’s 22% and Kasich’s 20%. In PA-11, he expanded that margin even further, taking 65%:

While Trump was poised to perform well in the district, Barletta proved to be an effective surrogate. For instance, before his tenure in Congress, he was mayor of Hazleton, in southern Luzerne County. Trump took 87% in Hazleton.

The only township Cruz actually carried was Centralia, in Columbia County. Centralia is essentially a ghost town with a constantly raging underground inferno, so make of that what you will. The only other non-Trump municipality was Cooke at the district’s foot, which was tied.

On the Democratic side, the 2008 version of Secretary Clinton would have fit the area quite nicely. However, this time around, she only managed a 2% win over Sen. Sanders. Clinton did well in the (relatively) more Democratic and wealthier townships. An exception to this was Bear Creek Village, the wealthiest municipality in Luzerne County, which went to Sanders:

Trump’s landslide on the Republican side was so great that he nearly got as many votes as Clinton and Sanders combined:

In the general election, Trump likewise had significant upside in PA-11. In 2008, Sen. McCain would have won the district 52/47. For years later, Gov. Romney nearly doubled that margin to win by 9.4%. In 2016, Trump carried it by a considerably larger 60/36. This made for a 19% swing to the Republicans over eight years.

While the Bidenland redshifted hard, Clinton gained back some ground in the Harrisburg metro:

At the Senatorial level, Sen. Pat Toomey (R) was reelected. Statewide, he won by 1.4%, compared to Trump’s slimmer .7%. In PA-11, though he underperformed Trump’s 24%. He took 56.5% to 38.3% for Democrat Katie McGinty.

The Trump vs Toomey map is very similar to the swing map; Trump performed much better in Bidenland, while the pro-Clinton areas were generally also where Toomey fared well:

Perhaps some good news for Democrats was that, compared to 2010, PA-11 swung slightly against Toomey – not what I was personally expecting. In 2010, he beat Rep. Joe Sestak (D) by 2%, and would have carried the current PA-11 by 19.8%. While Trump clearly assisted Toomey in Luzerne County, the rest of the district was more of a mixed bag:

Here’s a county-level breakdown of the Senate swing. Basically, while McGinty slumped in Bidenland counties (namely Luzerne and Carbon), she more than made it up by improving near Harrisburg (Dauphin and Cumberland Counties):

While Pennsylvania voted Republican in both the Presidential and Senate races, three of the state’s row offices were up in 2016: Attorney General, Auditor, and Treasurer. Democrats actually held all three. Here are the margins for Democratic candidates in these five races; while the district gets more amenable to them as one gets further down the ballot, it’s still significantly to the right of the state:

We’ve divided the five offices into those at the Federal level (President and Senate) and State level (the other three) and averaged the two-party performance. While the Federal Democrats would have averaged to lose PA-11 by 22%, State Democrats cut that deficit in half, to 11%:

While PA-11 is more open to supporting local Democrats, the race to replace Barletta is federal. Thus, we’d place it somewhere between Likely and Safe Republican, as Democrats would essentially need a wave to compete here.

Finally, our contributor Jeff Ditzler lists a number of possible candidates – interestingly, PA-11’s next Congressman could be from the non-Bidenland part, which would be rather ahistoric:

A trio of possibilities come from a race for the state Senate in the Harrisburg area last year: State Sen. John DiSanto; Rob Teplitz, the Democratic former senator DiSanto unseated; and Andrew Lewis, the businessman and Iraq veteran DiSanto edged out in the Republican primary.  Other Republicans from the General Assembly who might run include Reps. Stephen Bloom of Carlisle, Tarah Toohil of Hazleton, and Aaron Kaufer of Kingston, and Sen. John Gordner of Columbia County.  The Democrats might turn to activist Gene Stilp, who they nominated in 2012; Mike Marsicano, who preceded Lou Barletta as Hazleton mayor and challenged him in 2016; Carlisle Mayor Tim Scott; or a member of the Luzerne County Council, where they sill hold a majority.