Welcome to the first of a new series, “What if…”. There have been a lot of requests for this series, but I wanted to start with a personal one. What if the Pennsylvania Congressional map didn’t change for the 2018 elections?
Do any retiring Republicans stay in?
The three major incumbents in this scenario are Charlie Dent, Pat Meehan and Ryan Costello. All three got much harder districts to defend in the court ordered redistricting, but would’ve had a fighting chance if they had stayed the same. However, Meehan and Dent still both leave and resign. Dent was absolutely done with Congress and President Trump and Meehan had major ethics issues. The real interesting one is Costello.
Above is the old 6th district, and the current one in our alternate timeline. The district took in parts of Chester, Montgomery, Berks and Lebanon counties. In fact, the area was so gerrymandered that you could drive from my hometown of Elizabethtown, in the 16th, to the 15th, the 6th and then the 7th before looping back to where you started. Costello fit the district well. Residents in Montgomery knew him as a local kid, moderate enough for Chester, with the right party affiliation for the district’s more exurban portions. This is the first major change – Ryan Costello decides to run for re-election.
The Outlook in Western Pennsylvania
Changes are immediate in western Pennsylvania as well. Not only does Keith Rothfus likely survive, but Conor Lamb now faces a much harder re-election. The seat he originally won would’ve been much redder, and he would’ve likely faced Guy Reschenthaler, a much stronger candidate than Rick Saccone. Mike Kelly’s Erie based seat also would’ve been much less competitive in this scenario. While there’s certainly a possibility Lamb would have still moved to face Rothfus and maybe beat him, or pulled off another miracle in his old district, neither of these situations are very likely. The old 12th and 18th still went for Trump by double digits, and even Tom Wolf only won the old 12th by by 3%, despite his blowout.
The western part of the state looks undoubtably bleaker for Democrats in this timeline than it did in reality. Instead of a cancelling out of flips and a close race in Erie, Democrats instead have their new star lose and no close race in Erie. Already the path to three flips for Democrats in this timeline is much, much harder.
A chance to win in Lancaster.
This does not mean that the path is improbable, though. The old 7th, 6th and 15th are all certainly still wide open targets and one final seat still would have come into play. What would’ve been my Congressional district in this timeline, the 16th. This mostly Lancaster-based seat included 3/4ths of Lancaster County, part of Chester, and the city of Reading. You can see why this would’ve been competitive. The incumbent, Lloyd Smucker, won by just under 11 points in 2016, the closest this seat had ever been. Granted it was an open race in 2016, but Trump did about 4 points worse than Smucker, mainly in Chester and the North Lancaster City suburbs.
The expectation in this race was that Smucker would’ve faced a rematch against his 2016 opponent, Christian Hartman. I already wrote about what happened to Hartman in our timeline in a previous article, but here she would’ve had all the reason to run again. Her candidacy fit the district perfectly. The interesting thing is that both candidates would’ve faced primaries from the further right and left parts of their parties. Smucker would’ve faced off against Chet Beiler, a Manhiem based Republican, while Hartman would’ve faced off against Jess King, a progressive from Lancaster City. Both primaries would have been close and widely watched. No matter what happened though, this race would’ve replaced Rothfus as the Democratic target in this timeline.
Other events throughout the state
There are three other districts of note. First is Matt Cartwright’s 17th district, which would’ve certainly been a GOP target in this timeline. Then there are the 9th and 11th districts. These were held by Lou Barletta and Bill Shuster, both Representatives who were not running for re-election. This causes intrigue in all three races. Starting with Barletta’s 11th, which became the 9th district in our timeline. This one likely stays mostly the same. Dan Meuser probably still runs and wins the primary to replace Barletta in this scenario and is wins the generally comfortably.
Matt Cartwright also still wins re-election, possibly at a greater margin than he did in 2016. It’s important to remember that the 17th was a Democratic vote sink and that Cartwright was still popular in this district. It would’ve been within ten points, but Cartwright is still likely to survive thanks to the blue wave in the statewide races.
The old 9th district is where there could have been major changes. Here, John Joyce won the crowded primary for the new seat in our timeline, but a stringer force emerges in this timeline. Dave Reed, the Pennsylvania House Majority Leader, was running for this seat under the old lines. Without the redraw, he doesn’t drop out and likely comes out on top in this primary.
My full timeline of what happens
This is my full timeline of what happens if Pennsylvania doesn’t redraw its congressional map for the 2018 midterms. An asterisk (*) indicates a change from our timeline.
- January 22, 2018 – The Pennsylvania Supreme Court announces it concurs with the trial courts ruling, upholding the current Congressional Map.*
- January 26th, 2018 – Ryan Costello announces he is rejoining the 6th district race and will run for re-election. *
- February 22nd, 2018 – Guy Reschenthaler officially announces he is running for Congress against Conor Lamb under the 18th district. *
- April 2018 – Pat Meehan announces he is resigning in the face of reports he used taxpayer dollars to pay a sexual harassment claim. Even under the gerrymandered lines, Mary Gay Scanlon is a favorite in the general now. Speaker Mike Turzai schedules a special election on the same day as the General.
- May 12th, 2018 – Charlie Dent, who had already announced his retirement, announces he is resigning and will not finish his term. Speaker Turzai announces a same-days special to fill out the term, same as the 7th district.
- May 15th, 2018 – Primaries are held across Pennsylvania for the midterms. Chrissy Houlahan will face Ryan Costello, Susan Wild will face Marty Nothenstien and Mary Gay Scanlon will face Pearl Kim. Guy Reschenthaler also dispatches of Rick Saccone in the GOP primary to face off against Conor Lamb. Outlets call all of these primaries within two hours of polls closing.
- May 16th, 2018 – The primaries for the 16th go into the morning. The favorites, Hartman and Smucker are both facing closer-than-expected primary races. Smucker barely survives, thanks to strength in the Lancaster suburbs and the part of his old state senate district, 51.5-48%. Hartman, though, falls to progressive Jess King, who gets huge turnout from Lancaster and Reading Cities to pull out a 4,000-vote victory. Numerous analysis sites move the district to Leans Republican from Tossup due to the much more progressive King winning. *
Post Primary Events
- June 16th, 2018 – The first polls are released for the 6 districts considered competitive in 2018.
- The 6th: Costello 46%, Houlahan 44%, Undecided 8%
- The 7th: Scanlon 47%, Kim 42%, Undecided 9%
- The 15th: Nothstien: 46%, Wild 45%, Undecided 8%
- The 16th: Smucker 51%, King 41%, Undecided 7%
- The 17th: Cartwright 54%, Chrin 41%, Undecided 4%
- The 18th: Reschenthaler 49%, Lamb 44%, Undecided 6%
- Early July, 2018 – Scott Wagner’s candidacy for Governor is starting to become poison in the suburban districts. While Smucker and Kim have both endorsed him, Ryan Costello has refused to endorse the Trump-esque Governor nominee. *
- Late July, 2018 – New Polling is released for the three SEPA competitive house races.
- The 6th: Costello 46%, Houlahan 46%, Undecided 6%
- The 7th: Scanlon 49%, Kim 41%, Undecided 8%
- The 16th: Smucker 50%, King 44%, Undecided 5%
- Early August 2018 – Allegations of sexual assault come out against Marty Nothstein. He denies them as the race in the 15th moves towards Tilts Democratic territory as the accusations sink his favorables.
- Mid August 201 – Polls of the 15th and 17th district are released.
- 15th: Wild 46%, Nothstein 45%, Undecided 8%
- 17th: Cartwright 55%, Chrin 40%, Undecided 4%
- The 17th is moved from “Leans” to “Likely” Democratic by most political sites.
- Late August 2018 – Jess King releases an ad tying Smucker and Wagner together on healthcare. She releases it in the Chester and Berks parts of the district. Smucker responds with an ad that calls Jess King a communist, which gets lots of blowback from the local media in all parts of the district. Smucker refuses to apologize. *
- Early September 2018 – Two polls are released of the 16th district.
- NYT/Sienna: Smucker 48%, King 44%, Undecided 8%
- F&M College Poll: Smucker 49%, King 46%, Undecided 6%
- The district is officially moved back to tossup.
- Late September 2018 – Polls are released of the 6th, 7th and 18th districts.
- 6th: Costello 47%, Houlahan 47%, Undecided 6%
- 7th: Scanlon 49%, Kim 41%, Undecided 8%
- 18th: Reschenthaler 50%, Lamb 43%, 6% undecided
- The 7th and 18th are moved to Leans Democrat and Leans Republican, respectively.
- Mid October 2018 – Drama still hurts the R candidates in SEPA, as Costello still refuses to say whether he is voting for Wolf or Wagner, but does say he will vote for Lou Barletta over Bob Casey. Pearl Kim attends a rally with Scott Wagner in South Lancaster County, which is which the Scanlon team uses heavily in ads in the last 3 weeks.
- Late October 2018 – Polls are released for all expected competitive races in Pennsylvania.
- 6th: Costello 48%, Houlahan 48%, Undecided 4%
- 7th: Scanlon 52%, Kim 41%, Undecided 7%
- 15th: Nothstein 48%, Wild 47%, Undecided 5%
- 16th: Smucker 48%, King 47%, Undecided 5%
- 18th: Reschenthaler 52%, Lamb 42%, Undecided 5%
Election Day Timeline
- 7AM – Polls officially open across Pennsylvania
- 9AM – The race ratings in Pennsylvania have the House races going even or up to a three-seat gain for Democrats. Most accept that the 7th will flip to Democrats and the 18th will flip to Republicans. The questions remain what will happen in SEPA and the Lehigh-based seat, with observers considering all three Tossups.
- 11AM – Turnout up from the 2014 midterms across the state. High numbers of turnout in Lancaster and Reading causes concern for the Smucker camp.
- 6PM – Public sees initial exit polls.
- 6th: Houlahan 49%, Costello 48%
- 7th: Scanlon 54%, Kim 42%
- 15th: Nothstein 49%, Wild 49%
- 16th: Smucker 50%, King 49%
- 18th: Reschenthaler 55%, Lamb 44%
- 8PM – Polls close across the state.
- 8:05 PM – Montgomery County attempts to keep polls open after some issues in the early morning. A judge denies their motion and orders the polls to close.
- 8:15 PM – First results arrive.
- 6th: Costello 67%, Houlahan 33%, 1% in
- 7th: Kim 55%, Scanlon 45%, 2% in
- 15th: Nothstein 62%, Wild 38%, 2% in
- 16th: Smucker 65%, King 35%, 1% in
- 18th: Reschenthaler 60%, Lamb 40%, 5% in
- 8:50 PM – Expectations start that Democrats will likely pick up one house seat from Pennsylvania, with most analysts expecting it to be the 6th or 16th.
- 9PM – Updated results from the competitive districts. Media calls all non-competitive races, including the 17th. The 1st is still not yet called, but Fitzpatrick is up by 10 over opponent Scott Wallace.
- 6th: Costello 49%, Houlahan 48%, 26% in
- 7th: Scanlon 51%, Kim 49%, 26% in
- 15th: Nothstein 52%, Wild 48%, 28% in
- 16th: Smucker 53%, King 47%, 24% in
- 18th: Reschenthaler 55%, Lamb 44%, 31% in
- 9:52 PM – The AP calls the 18th for Reschenthaler. With 55% of the vote counted, he is up 55-45% on Conor Lamb, flipping this seat back to the GOP.
- 10:10 PM – Mary Gay Scanlon officially beats Pearl Kim according to the networks, up 52-47% with mostly favorable areas left to count for her in the district. The second flip goes to Democrats.
- 10:30 PM – The final three competitive races, all rated Tossup going into the night, have yet to be called.
- 6th: Houlahan 49%, Costello 48%, 73% in
- 15th: Nothstein 51%, Wild 49%, 74% in
- 16th: Smucker 51%, King 49%, 72% in
- 11:15 PM – With 89% in for both races, results are called for the 6th and 15th districts. Crissy Houlahan beats out Ryan Costello 50-48% in the 6th and flips the seat, while Marty Nothstein survives allegations of sexual harassment to beat Susan Wild 51-48%.
- 11:38 PM – With 97% of the vote in, Lloyd Smucker declares victory. He leads Jess King 50.8-49.2% with not enough remaining from Chester and too much left in South Lancaster for King to pull it out.
What do you think?
That is my full “What If“ for if Pennsylvania wasn’t forced to change their congressional districts in 2018. Do you agree? Do you disagree? Message me or comment if you think something else would happen!