Pa. Legislature Kicks Off 10-Month Campaign Cycle
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) – The campaign for the Republican presidential election has dominated national political news lately, but in Pennsylvania the never-really-over battle for control of the Legislature has been quietly heating up.
The two-year election cycle has been delayed this time around by the redistricting process, but with new maps now available for the state's 203 House and 50 Senate districts, efforts are picking up steam to find and fund candidates and organize campaigns.
The three-week window in which to circulate nominating petitions begins Jan. 24 for the April 24 primary, which is being held early because of the presidential race. Republicans currently hold solid majority margins in the Senate and House, although control of the lower chamber has swung back and forth between the parties in recent elections.
“Anyone who makes definitive predictions about the next election really hasn’t learned much from the previous three elections,” said state Rep. Brendan Boyle of Philadelphia, who heads the campaign committee for the 91-member House Democratic caucus. “I’m cautiously optimistic about 2012 – we have a lot of great opportunities.”
House Republicans rolled up impressive numbers in the 2010 campaign, returning to majority status in time to help advance the agenda of freshman Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. That record includes deep cuts to education and human services, along with lower overall state spending and no increases to broad-based taxes.
“I think our folks will run races based upon the idea that in these times, somebody has to be the adult in the room,” said Rep. Dave Reed of Indiana County, the House Republicans' campaign coordinator. “These aren't the days when you're running billion-dollar surpluses and everybody gets to make easy decisions.”
Reed said members with the least to fear about re-election are those who make themselves conspicuous in their districts, knocking on doors, attending local events and meetings and working hard at their job.
“Those folks are not going to have a problem, no matter what their districts look like and what party they’re from,” Reed said.
Most of the 203 House members who seek another term are likely to be re-elected, but in recent years the swing districts have been concentrated in the Philadelphia suburbs, southwestern Pennsylvania and the northeast. There are about 15 House members who have or rumored to be planning to retire or resign to pursue other offices. State Senate insiders say the total number of openings expected in that chamber is three to five.
State Senate Democrats, now down 30-20 and facing a redrawn map that moved one of their Pittsburgh members’ districts across the state to the fast-growing Poconos, are hoping they can pick up the Erie district being vacated by retiring Republican Sen. Jane Earll. Half of the 50 Senate seats are up this year.
Montgomery County Sen. Daylin Leach, the Democrats' top campaign strategist, said his party has lined up a strong candidate for that race, and plans to announce that candidate and others in the coming weeks.
Leach said that newly located Monroe County district is forcing the departure of the incumbent, Sen. Jim Brewster, D-Allegheny, but it may be winnable for the Democrats. It was narrowly won by Barack Obama four years ago.
“That area tends to trend Democratic,” Leach said, noting the influx of transplants from New York and New Jersey. “Plus, it’s Bob Casey’s backyard.”
Casey, a first-term Democratic U.S. senator with a power base in Scranton, will be on the ballot along with Obama in November, and those two races will undoubtedly influence lower-tier races. Republicans have not picked their nominees for president or Senate, and their appeal to Pennsylvania voters could play a major part in shaping state Legislative contests.
“I still feel like our brand, and the national mood, which does certainly have an effect on what’s going on (at) the local level, I think the winds are still blowing in our favor,” said Mike Barley, executive director of the state Republican Party.
Those marquee races are expected to drive up turnout figures, an important factor in a state with 4.1 million Democrats and 3 million Republicans.
By October, the parties will have picked their nominees, Corbett and the General Assembly will be wrapping up the twoyear legislative session, and the presidential, U.S. Senate and state attorney general, auditor general and treasurer races will be drawing to a close.