Pennsylvania election: Democrats look for US House gains

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - The midterm election Tuesday in Pennsylvania features a big pool of competitive races for Congress, the most closely watched contests in the state.

In statewide races, Republican businessman Scott Wagner is trying to unseat Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, and Republican U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta is seeking to topple Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey.

But it is a Democratic drive to flip control of several House seats, aided by a new court-drawn congressional map that stripped Republicans of some favorable boundaries, that is expected to produce the most drama on election night.

A look at how the races have shaped up in the Keystone State:


Wolf rolled up a huge campaign account in 2017 and consolidated the support of the Democratic Party and its allies ahead of his campaign for a second term. He has run a conservative campaign designed to limit mistakes and take advantage of Wagner's liabilities, including his penchant for eyebrow-raising comments. For example, at one point Wagner told the governor in a Facebook video that he should get a catcher's mask because he planned to stomp on his face with golf spikes.

Wolf, 69, has played up his first-term record, even though battles with the Legislature's huge Republican majorities forced him to lower his expectations and change strategy midway through his first four-year term.

Wagner, a 63-year-old former state senator who made millions from his garbage-hauling business, mostly self-financed his campaign. He has promised to slash taxes and squeeze inefficiencies out of state government. He fought an unexpectedly bruising and expensive primary and has had to answer to scrutiny of the large trash-hauling company he owns.

Spending in the race is expected to exceed $60 million.


Barletta's bid to stop Casey from winning a third six-year term failed to generate the interest - and the cash - that poured into the last U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania, won in 2016 by Republican Pat Toomey.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence campaigned for the four-term congressman, but the GOP has focused its attention beyond Pennsylvania - a state Trump won by less than 1 percentage point - as it works to maintain a slim Senate majority.

Combined campaign spending is unlikely to break $40 million, as hardly any money from outside groups has entered Pennsylvania to try to influence the race, according to Federal Election Commission records. Barletta's fundraising has also been relatively weak. By comparison, a record-breaking $170 million was spent in the 2016 race for the seat won by Toomey, the only Republican now holding statewide office in Pennsylvania.

Casey, 58, the son of the late former Gov. Robert P. Casey, has been a vocal critic of Trump, while Barletta, 62, is among the president's most reliable defenders. Former President Barack Obama campaigned for Casey back in September, while former Vice President Joe Biden was heading to the state to campaign for him Sunday.

The two candidates have divided along party lines on major issues including immigration, health care and Trump's tax-cutting law.


The most open seats in decades - seven - and redrawn district boundaries are combining to create more competitive races than usual.

The state Supreme Court in January threw out the congressional district map Republicans drew in 2011, ruling that it was unconstitutionally drawn to give Republicans an advantage, and races in Tuesday's election are being held within new boundaries drawn by the court's Democratic majority. Under the 2011 map, Republicans won 13 of 18 seats in three straight elections, even as Democrats dominated in statewide elections.

Now, Republicans are expected to lose three open seats around Philadelphia and Allentown.

Incumbent Republicans are in close races, including freshman Brian Fitzpatrick in suburban Philadelphia, three-term Scott Perry in southcentral Pennsylvania and three-term Keith Rothfus in suburban Pittsburgh. Four-term Mike Kelly in northwestern Pennsylvania and freshman Lloyd Smucker in south-central Pennsylvania are under pressure in districts won heavily by Trump.

Third-party groups have spent more than $19 million on the races, according to federal campaign finance records.


Commanding Republican margins in both chambers - 121-82 in the House and 34-16 in the Senate, when counting vacancies based on which party last held the seat - are expected to shrink amid a large number of Republican vacancies.

In the House, Democrats have candidates in 20 of the 21 open Republican seats, while the GOP has challengers in just 5 of the 12 Democratic openings. Also feeling pressure are Republican incumbents in suburban Philadelphia and the Pittsburgh area, including House Speaker Mike Turzai of Allegheny County.

All five Senate vacancies are Republican-held seats, including two in suburban Philadelphia and one each based in suburban Pittsburgh, and Blair and York counties.


Deadlines to register and get an absentee ballot are past, as is the deadline for civilians to submit an absentee ballot. The number of absentee ballots requested from counties this year is eye-opening: more than 227,000. That's fewer than in recent presidential election years, but much larger than the 138,919 recorded in the midterm election of 2010 and the 96,849 reported in the midterm election of 2014, according to Pennsylvania elections officials.

Polls will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. Slightly more than 8.6 million voters are registered. Of that, 4.1 million are Democrats, almost 3.3 million are Republicans and 1.2 million are independent or registered with a third-party. Turnout in the last two midterm elections was between 40 percent and 50 percent of registered voters.

Voters can check their registration status here.