- The Washington Times - Monday, March 26, 2018

Pennsylvania helped secure President Trump’s victory in 2016, but two years later it could be the state that undercuts his presidency by helping deliver control of the House to Democrats.

GOP incumbents are announcing retirements, the state Supreme Court rewrote the congressional map into a much more favorable playing field for Democrats, and even in the old map Mr. Trump was unable to deliver victory this month in a special election in southwestern Pennsylvania that had been the epitome of Trump territory two years ago.

Republicans were already going to have a tough time in Pennsylvania under normal midterm conditions, said Nathan L. Gonzales, editor and publisher of Inside Elections, a nonpartisan campaign tracker.

“But with the combination of GOP retirements, a new map, and a suburban surge against President Trump, Republicans could lose a handful of seats in Pennsylvania alone,” he said.

Democrats will need to flip about two dozen House seats to recapture control of the chamber, and as many as five of those could come in Pennsylvania alone.

Over the weekend, Rep. Ryan Costello became the latest Republican to announce he was headed for the exits, leaving the state party scrambling to find a top tier candidate in the suburban Philadelphia district.

“There’s no question that it was going to be tougher in light of what’s happening in the suburbs across the country,” Mr. Costello said on MSNBC after making his announcement.

Val DiGiorgio, chairman of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, blamed the state Supreme Court’s move earlier this year to toss a GOP-friendly congressional map drawn before the 2012 elections and impose more Democrat-friendly lines. But he vowed the state GOP will keep battling.

“The Republican Party is as dedicated and determined as ever to winning this seat in November and bringing to the voters our message of freedom, job growth and building a stronger America,” Mr. DiGorgio said.

David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report said Mr. Costello was “probably the biggest loser” from the map redraw, shifting his district from a toss-up to one that leans significantly toward Democrats.

“The move deprives Republicans of a well-liked incumbent with $1.3 million in the bank in a suburban Philadelphia district and puts Democrat Chrissy Houlahan in the driver’s seat to take over a very favorably redrawn seat,” Mr. Wasserman said.

Republicans are expected to lose at least two other seats near Philadelphia, according to political handicappers, who say the Pennsylvania 18-member delegation could include as many as 11 Democrats in a blue wave election.

Republicans held a 13-5 edge until the swearing-in of Democrat Conor Lamb, who earlier this month defeated Republican Rick Saccone in a special House election in a Pittsburgh-area district that Mr. Trump has carried by nearly 20 points over Hillary Clinton.

“Conor Lamb’s victory in PA-18 was an indication that Democrats could make gains in the state based on the old House map,” said Kyle Kondik, of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “The new House map should make those gains easier, particularly when paired with several GOP retirements.”

Mr. Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,000 votes in 2016, making him the first GOP presidential candidate to carry the state since George H.W. Bush in 1988.

But since then suburban voters have moved away from Republicans and particularly Mr. Trump, leaving the GOP with a steeper hill, said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College.

“The environment is very different [than it was in 2016] and it is all about which party is motivated, which party is united, which party is the out-party and right now we know who that is,” Mr. Madonna said.

There are some positive signs for the GOP.

Democrats’ lead in “generic” polling when voters nationwide are asked which party they’ll vote for in their House election has shrunk from double-digits last year down to 6 percentage points.

And Republicans said they can still target at least one Democrat in Pennsylvania whose district got worse in the redraw.

“Republicans are still well positioned to compete in Pennsylvania and have a great opportunity to knock off one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country in Matt Cartwright,” said Jesse Hunt, spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans.

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