This week, President Trump selected another sitting member of Congress to serve in his administration; Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania was nominated to lead the Office of National Drug Control Policy. As Marino’s new role as the drug czar doesn’t require Senate confirmation, his resignation from Congress looks imminent. Thus, Marino is set to leave behind an open seat in DDHQ’s favorite state. In this post, we’ll look at some of the fundamentals that will shape the ensuing special election.
Here’s the map of Pennsylvania’s current districts; Marino’s 10th is the pink district that wraps around the eastern half of the state:
Historically, PA-10 has been based in northeastern Pennsylvania. At DDHQ, we’ve nicknamed this area Bidenland, as the former Vice President was born and raised there, and frequently references his childhood in Scranton. Throughout the last few redistricting cycles, PA-10 has moved westward, reaching further into the Susquehanna Valley; this mountainous central part of the state is often called Pennsyltucky.
PA-10 is very much a white working class district. The Census Bureau estimates only about 21% of the district’s adult population holds a bachelor’s degree or higher. Geographically, college-educated residents are concentrated near either 1) Waverly, a wealthier township northwest of Scranton, or, on the other side of the district, 2) in Union County, where Bucknell University is located:
By contrast, here’s a map looking at whites without college degrees. Overall this demographic makes up the majority in 308 of the district’s roughly 330 townships:
As you’d expect from the demographics, going into 2016, PA-10 had significant electoral upside for Trump. In 2012, Governor Romney carried the seat by a handsome 21.6%; last year, Trump expanded that margin to 36%:
Going further down the ballot, there were five statewide total races last year in Pennsylvania. Republicans won at the federal level, winning the President and Senate contests, while Democrats held three state offices (Attorney General, Auditor, and Treasurer). Still, even the Republicans who lost statewide pulled pretty healthy margins out of PA-10:
While it did seem like the voters here were in a straight-party mood, there were some minor coalition differences. Specifically, all three statewide Democrats (Shapiro, DePasquale, and Toreslla) were able to outpoll their federal counterparts (Clinton and McGinty).
Here’s the district’s two-party ‘federal average’ – this considers the Presidential and Senate vote. Trump and Toomey averaged for just over 65%:
At the state level, things were a bit less punishing for Democrats. The three statewide Democrats would have averaged for 36% in PA-10:
Here’s a comparison of these two maps. The federal Democrats (red) ran behind state Democrats (blue) almost everywhere. Outside of the few pink towns in the rural north, the noticeable exceptions to this were Lewisburg Borough and East Buffalo Township, in Union County (again, where Bucknell University is located). On the other extreme, the darkest shades of blue are in Lackawanna County. Several municipalities there (such as Carbondale, Scott, and Moscow) voted for Trump but supported all three Democrats who ran for the non-federal offices.
While the seat is still solidly Republican, Democrats have won here within the past decade. From 2006 to 2011 they held it with Chris Carney, a political science professor and veteran, by background.
A moderate Bue Dog, Carney fit the district as well as a Democrat could, but he still caught some breaks. First in terms of sheer timing, 2006 was the worst midterm for the GOP in decades. Second, he was running against a damaged incumbent. Except for his initial race, from 1998 to 2004, Rep. Don Sherwood (R), held the seat pretty easily. However, going into the 2006 elections, Sherwood was dogged by allegations that he assaulted his mistress (he was faced with a $5.5 million lawsuit, but eventually settled). Sherwood’s electoral weakness was first shown in the primary; as a four-term incumbent, he limped by with 56% against an underfunded Some Dude. In the later months of the campaign, Carney lead in the polls, and ultimately won by 6%:
Carney also likely benefited from the Senate contest upballot, which itself could be considered a product of the national environment. In 2006, Democrats recruited State Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. to challenge Senator Rick Santorum (R), whose popularity was quickly eroding. In the widest margin of defeat for an incumbent that year, Casey ousted Santorum by 17%. Santorum still managed to carry PA-10, but by less than 2%; in 2004, by contrast, President Bush won it by about 20%. Casey’s close margin here probably provided a nice assist to Carney’s campaign:
In 2008, Carney again had the benefit of a favorable year. He defeated first-time candidate Chris Hackett by 13%, and won every county in PA-10 except for the southwesternmost Snyder, even as President Obama lost the district by 8%. In 2010, as the national mood turned towards the GOP, the natural lean of the district asserted itself. Republicans also recruited a better candidate in District Attorney Tom Marino. Marino defeated Carney by 10%, and has held the seat since. During the 2011 redistricting, controlled by the GOP, the seat drifted further rightward. It lost Democratic-friendly territory near Scranton to the neighboring PA-17, but expanded westward to include redder, and more Appalachian-flavored, counties.
So where do we stand now? Our friends at Red Racing Horses lay it out nicely:
After Marino resigns, Gov. Tom Wolf will have 10 days to set a date for a special election, which must take place at least 60 days after the vacancy. It does not appear that there is a deadline for the special election, and with Pennsylvania’s statewide off-year primary occurring too soon (May 16), Gov. Wolf may choose to wait things out and schedule this to coincide with the November 7 general election. There are no special primaries in Pennsylvania, so candidates will be selected by the state party committees, using party rules. Republicans hold a convention of party officials from the counties within the district to select their nominee. The Democratic nominee will be chosen by the statewide party’s 50-member executive committee, based on recommendation from county party leaders.
As usual, we’ll be following the developments (candidate announcements, the timetable, polling, etc.) closely. Yes, the Republicans start out favored, given the district’s lean, but as the KS-04 race showed this week, it should be interesting to at least watch for margins and trendlines.