A mad dash by candidates at the Pennsylvania state level to garner enough signatures to qualify for the primary ballot began over the weekend, kicking off what is sure to be a year of political change. in the Pennsylvania Legislature.
The state Supreme Court cut the normal three-week petition collection period in half last week when the court approved new General Assembly maps. Candidates only have a week and a half.
The justices left the May 17 primary date in place, but gave the candidates until March 28 to obtain the required signatures to vote – 500 for the state Senate and 300 for the House.
The pandemic and the general distrust of the disclosure of personal information do not facilitate the process.
“To be perfectly honest, it’s a tough time,” said seven-term Rep. Sheryl Delozier, R-Cumberland, after spending several days knocking on doors in a suburban Harrisburg neighborhood that’s been undergoing change. important in redistribution. “People are afraid to sign a fraudulent je ne sais quoi.”
The launch of the petition rally was accompanied by a fresh wave of retirement announcements — at least 22 Republicans and seven Democrats in the House are not seeking another term. Five state senators, four Republicans and an independent who caucus with the GOP, are also bowing out.
That’s a lot of starts to hit the 203-member House with just months before the first votes are cast.
Rep. Andrew Lewis, a second-term Republican from Dauphin County, was dragged into a district with fellow Republican, Rep. Sue Helm. Neither is seeking re-election in the new Democratic-leaning district.
“Really, it’s because I analyzed every neighborhood in this district and statistically I think it’s impossible for a Republican to win there,” Lewis said.
After several rounds of redistricting in which Republicans had control, this year the process has been more favorable to Democrats. The decisive fifth member of the Legislative Redistribution Commission was a Supreme Court-chosen Democrat from the Democratic-majority state, and population growth was concentrated in the Democratic Southeast.
Republicans have a 113-90 majority in the House, though three of those seats are vacant through resignations and will be filled in a special election on April 5: the Democratic seats in Allegheny County that will are opened when Representative Ed Gainey was elected Mayor and appointed Representative. Jake Wheatley, a high-level staffer, and an available Luzerne County seat since Republican Rep. Tarah Toohil won a court race.
Trevor Southerland, executive director of the House Democratic Campaign Committee, estimates that more than two dozen House GOP members currently represent districts in which at least 45% of voters supported Joe Biden or Josh Shapiro, the Democratic attorney general who is unopposed. for the post of governor of his party. appointment this year. Along with the slew of Republican retirements, he thinks Democrats have an array of potential targets.
“It puts the chamber on the line,” Southerland said. “The new cards don’t guarantee us a majority by any means, but what they do is they give us an opportunity. Which in a swing state is what we should have.
Southerland sees a path for two more Democratic seats in the Harrisburg area and potential pickups in suburban Philadelphia, Poconos and the State College area.
But in 2016 and 2020, the state was evenly divided in presidential contests, and this year, state House Democrats will play defense in at least four swing districts where longtime incumbents are retiring. Reps. Mike Carroll and Gerald Mullery in Luzerne County, Rep. Pam Snyder in Greene County, and Rep. Mark Longietti in Mercer County are all leaving areas with strong Republican voting performance.
One of Southerland’s top targets, six-term Montgomery County Republican Rep. Todd Stephens, has been in the Democratic crosshairs for election cycle after election cycle and continues to win. Stephens had to cancel his plan to watch college basketball last weekend for a petition effort he described as “more of a sprint than a marathon.”
Like many others, he predicts Democrats will win seats this year, but not enough to regain a majority.
“I haven’t heard too much concern about losing the majority,” Stephens said. “I’ve heard a lot of people say he’s likely to shrink, which is just the way it goes – I’ve seen the ebb and flow.”
Although all five retirees among the 25 Senate seats this year are Republicans, Senate GOP campaign chairman Sen. David Argall of Schuylkill County said he was encouraged by the crop of candidates who emerged.
He’s counting on anger over gas prices and other national political trends to help him.
“I think there’s also a serious case of Tom Wolf fatigue,” Argall said, referring to the state’s two-term Democratic governor, now in his final year in office. “So it’s not just the national issues.”
Pennsylvania has had a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature for 16 of the past 20 years, and voters may well share power again.
Montgomery County Rep. Tim Briggs, a House Democrat, said his caucus felt Republicans hadn’t run the House fairly.
“If we’re in the majority, the margin will be narrow, and depending on who wins the governorship, we’ll try to govern and try to get a compromise,” Briggs said. “It will be a challenge in itself, because there will be people who want revenge. We must do what is best for Pennsylvania.