When someone says “swingy house district in Pennsylvania”, what does your mind go to? Most probably think about PA-01, based in Bucks County and currently held by Republican Brian Fitzpatrick.
With a major fundraising advantage and a weak opponent drawn this year though, this isn’t the race you should be focusing on in Pennsylvania. Instead, Pennsylvania’s most competitive house race will likely be based in central Pennsylvania’s PA-10.
A Central Pennsylvania Battleground
Back in January I argued that PA-10 should be the most-watched district in the state. Even though the race has drawn some attention, however, I feel it deserves a deeper dive.
To be fair, the 10th is not as blue as 1st. Trump won it by nine points in 2016 while he lost the 1st by two. The district takes in all of light blue Dauphin County and parts of York and Cumberland. It’s swingy thanks to the inclusion of York City, the shifting Harrisburg suburbs in Cumberland. Additionally, it has the city of Harrisburg plus the suburban-esque town of Hershey in Dauphin. The rest of the district is solidly red areas of farmland and small towns, which is what you expect when talking about Central Pennsylvania.
The quality of candidates is what matters here. While the GOP may still hold this district, their incumbent is not the greatest fit for the swing district. The Democrats on the other hand, got their best possible candidate for this seat.
Meet the Democrat
The Democrats nominated Eugene DePasquale, the elected Auditor General for Pennsylvania. DePasquale, who is based in York, actually would’ve been the only Democratic candidate statewide who won this district if it was drawn like this in 2016.
It is fair to mention that DePasquale was the only Democratic incumbent on the ballot in 2016. This is because all his fellow row officers were caught doing illegal activities. Treasurer Rob McCord pled guilty to two counts of extortion and resigned in early 2015. Then there was Kathleen Kane, who finally resigned after being convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, among many charges. So DePasquale was well regarded for being the only out of the three row officers who didn’t end up corrupt.
That’s not to say DePasquale was bad at his job as Auditor General, either. He crafted a reputation of being moderate and fair. This reputation is what has catapulted him to the top of Democratic recruits this cycle. His candidacy is likely the only way Democrats had a even shot at winning this district.
The Republican Incumbent
There’s one other big difference from this race and Pennsylvania’s 1st district. In the 1st, Republicans have Brian Fitzpatrick, the model for a swing district representative. In the 10th, Republicans have a Freedom Caucus member in Scott Perry.
Perry doesn’t have a thin resume. He served in the Army and in local government before rising to Congress. The truth is, however, that he is not the right fit for a swing district. Perry is considered one of the most right-wing members of the party. While this may have worked in his old, very red district, it doesn’t work very well in this one. He has also taken some positions during the COVID-19 pandemic, mainly about masks. If used well by DePasquale’s team, that could hurt him in this district.
He has survived this battle once already though, meaning we cannot count him out. Perry knocked off George Scott, a moderate Lutheran Pastor from Hershey, getting good enough margins in the York and Cumberland parts of the district to beat away a nine-point Scott win in Dauphin. Perry has shown the ability to campaign and win in a swing district, but with a stronger candidate coming up against him in DePasquale, that might not matter.
What Will Decide PA-10?
It’s going to come down to two things in this race: fundraising and Joe Biden’s margin of victory/vote share in the state.
Currently the fundraising is about even between the two candidates, with Perry holding a very slim $6k advantage in cash on hand. DePasquale also outraised Perry for the first time in the most recent quarter, showing that he may have gotten his post primary momentum. The market is based around Harrisburg, which is not very expensive either, so we will see a lot of ads come up for this race. It won’t be hard for these candidates to get on the air.
Now, what about Joe Biden’s possible margin in the state of Pennsylvania? It will end up being really important in this district, especially since Trump won it by nine while only winning the state by less than a one percent. Both Bob Casey and Tom Wolf won this district, albeit by much different margins and also during statewide blowouts. Casey won this district by 2 while winning statewide by 15 and Wolf won this district by 11 while winning statewide by 17. You see the shift. The most recent poll of Pennsylvania, conducted by F&M College, showed Biden with an 11-point lead over the President. While this margin would make the PA-10 close at the Presidential level, Trump would more than likely still pull out a win in this district.
So if DePasquale wants coattails by the Biden ticket in this race, he has to hope for a Wolf type blowout. That is still unlikely, even under the current Biden lead, so DePasquale will more than likely have to over perform Biden to get a victory.
Where this race is now
Unfortunately, this race has been lacking polling thanks to the focus on the Presidential race and competitive Senate seats. The only head-to-head poll we have is a DePasquale internal that showed him down three. Without good polling, it’s hard to tell where this race is.
Still, this is likely to be the closest house race in Pennsylvania his fall. It is going to be close and a lot of money is going to be spent here. This is one of the key races to watch and it will say a lot about how Joe Biden’s night and the President’s night is going in the state of Pennsylvania.