Scranton is central to Joe Biden’s political mythos. It’s the city he grew up in, and it was pivotal to his 2020 electoral strategy. Biden set out to regain enough support in Scranton, and areas like it, to rebuild the ‘blue wall’.
At the same time, Democratic Congressman Matt Cartwright has been battling a rising Republican tide in this corner of the commonwealth. Cartwright’s Eighth District contains Lackawanna, Pike and Wayne counties as well as parts of Luzerne and Monroe.
Last November, these two Democrats went in opposite directions. Biden improved upon Hillary Clinton’s performance in each of the district’s five counties, while Cartwright lost ground from his showing in 2018. Nevertheless, Rep. Cartwright won re-election in PA-8 whereas Pres. Biden lost the district.
Just how long can Rep. Cartwright hold onto this seat? To examine this, I compiled precinct maps for Cartwright’s 2020 and 2018 victories and compared them with the 2020 presidential results.
2020 vs 2018
The 8th District is one of only seven nationwide seats where the Democratic incumbent won despite Trump getting more votes than Biden. Matt Cartwright ended up defeating Republican Jim Bognet 52% to 48%, and Donald Trump prevailed over Joe Biden 52% to 47%.
The heart of this district is the line that begins from the top of Lackawanna County and slices straight through into Luzerne. This also happens to be where Rep. Cartwright’s strength is most apparent, as he ran noticeably stronger than Biden in places like Carbondale, Nanticoke, Old Forge and Wyoming.
Despite all that, 2020 represented a step back for Cartwright. In his 2018 match-up with John Chrin, he won re-election by a more comfortable 55% to 45% margin.
Compared to this 2018 showing, the incumbent Congressman performed worse in 2020 through all five counties. The most significant erosion of all came in Lackawanna, where a 27 point win was trimmed to 17. National conditions undoubtedly played a major factor here. 2018 was one of the strongest years in recent history for House Democrats, as they racked up a net gain of 41 seats. 2020, on the other hand, saw the Dems dealt a disappointing loss of 13 seats. Given this trend, and the long history of tough midterms for incumbent Presidents, 2022 will be a severe test for Cartwright. Speaking of which…
Looking Ahead to 2022
As we await the new House maps from the latest Census, Matt Cartwright can be thankful that he’ll never have to run in this exact district again. The problem, of course, is that there’s no guarantee that the next district will be any more hospitable to him.
Pennsylvania is widely expected to lose a seat in the redistricting process, which means someone has to get the short straw. If the next set of maps puts Cartwright into a district with more rural Republican areas and/or cuts off part of that Scranton/Wilkes-Barre corridor, that could signal his political death knell.