Open Seat Watch: Pennsylvania’s 18th District

With the resignation of Rep. Tim Murphy (R) this week triggering a special election, a fourth seat opens up in the Desk’s favorite state – the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

PA-18 is based in southwestern Pennsylvania, taking up much of the southern Pittsburgh metro area. Its current configuration was essentially new for the 2002 cycle. It was drawn to take in GOP-leaning parts of Westmoreland and Washington Counties, on either ends, while using southern Allegheny County (which houses Pittsburgh), a bridge. To say the least, it was not the neatest Congressional District:

For the 2011 redistricting, it retained the same basic formula, though became cleaner:

A plurality of PA-18, 40% is in Allegheny County. Westmoreland County, to the it’s east, is a close second with just over 1/3 of the voters. The remaining share comes from Washington County, to the west, and Greene County, the southern and most rural county.

Some of its’ larger communities are Bethel Park, Mount Lebannon, Scott (all in  Allegheny County), Greensburg (Westmoreland), Washington, and Cannonsburg (Washington).

In Presidential races, it leans Republican. Last year, President Trump carried it by 19% over Secretary Clinton:

However, this was not always the case. Much like neighboring West Virginia, southwestern PA has historically been Democratic – thanks to a rather robust white working class contingent. In 1984, for example, Walter Mondale would have swept every county in this district:

From a demographic perspective, the region is overwhelmingly white. Economically, it’s traditionally been dominated by steel mills, which have been on the decline. In recent years, the suburbanization from Pittsburgh proper has spilled into the district. This transition be seen in the region’s educational breakdown. Overall, 36% of PA-18 residents (25 and older), hold a college degree; they are concentrated in the Pittsburgh suburbs, compared to the more working class counties in the south:

The de-industrialization of the area meant that PA-18 was rather fertile ground for President Trump. His strength was evident in the primary. His percentage there, 58%, matched his statewide share almost exactly. Governor Kasich and Senator Cruz placed a distant second and third, respectively. As expected, Trump fared worse as one got nearer to Pittsburgh proper – Cruz even nabbed a few townships from him there:

On the Democratic side, Secretary Clinton had broad strength over Senator Sanders – she beat him by almost 14%:

Still, it was evident that Trump’s appeal here brought more voters in the GOP. Despite the Democratic side being considered more competitive, more voters cast ballots in the Republican primary:

Looking to the general election, Trump carried the seat with 59.7% of the two-party vote. In the Senate race, Sen. Pat Toomey (R) only performed slightly worse, getting 59.1% to Democrat Katie McGinty’s 40.9%. Combined, the “Federal Average” of the seat was 59.3% in the GOP’s favor:

At the state level, three statewide offices were up in 2016 – Attorney General, Auditor, and Treasurer. Democrats swept all three, by roughly 3-6%, each. The statewide Democratic candidates were considerably more competitive in PA-18, likely a reflection of it’s historical character. In these races, the Republican candidates would have still had the advantage, but by a closer 53/47:

The most notable result here is the Auditor’s race. Auditor Eugene DePasquale (D) ran slightly behind Treasurer Joe Torsella (D) statewide, but came closer to carrying PA-18, and barely came short:

Except for a few suburban townships, statewide Democrats outpcaed Federal Democrats throughout the district:

As for the special election itself, Gov. Tom Wolf seems most likely to schedule it for later this winter, or early in spring. RRH has a good explanation of the process – the parties will select candidates to run in the general election.

Two state Senators have announced runs on the GOP side. State Sen. Guy Renschenthaler (R), who represents southwestern Allegheny County and State Sen. Kim Ward (R), of Westmoreland. State Rep. Brandon Neuman (D), of Washington County, seems like the strongest potential Democrat from the legislature. Democrats have another candidate running in former Allegheny Councilman Mike Crossey.