Suburban Philadelphia has been in the driver’s seat of recent elections in Pennsylvania, and this year won’t be any different. Two contrasting trends are in play in the area. In the long run, the area has gone from solidly Republican to Democratic-leaning in recent Presidential elections, and this shift will trickle down into state and local elections over time. In the short term, Democrats in the region can expect to miss Governor Rendell’s presence on this year’s ticket. To say that the former Philadelphia mayor is a rock star in the Delaware Valley is probably giving too much credit to rock stars, and several candidates who rode his coattails will find themselves playing an unusual role for Democrats in suburban Philadelphia: defense. Not all, or even most, of them will lose, but Republicans retain strength in local politics: they dominate county row offices in Bucks and Chester Counties and hold the Democrats to parity in Montgomery County.
Note: Fundraising totals are the total funds available as of May; when a candidate has more than one committee, the number given is the net total of the committees. Source for 2008 House vote here. Incumbents marked with an asterisk. Percentages for winning Presidential candidates are of the two-party vote and are approximate due to some municipalities being split among more than one district.
13th District (Chester County: Parkesburg, Oxford)
- Tom Houghton* (D) vs. John Lawrence (R)
- 2008 results: House: 48%D-46%R-6%I, Obama (51.8%)
- Fundraising: Houghton $35,350; Lawrence $4,788
Most Democratic gains in Southeastern Pennsylvania have been in the densely populated areas closest to Philadelphia, but this district is in a rural area closer to Lancaster than Philadelphia. Incumbent Houghton hopes his emphasis on rural issues and bipartisanship can give him a second victory over Lawrence, who cut his teeth running as a challenger after the infamous 2005 legislative pay raise. The presence of Lincoln University gives the district a higher African-American and youth presence than usual for rural Pennsylvania; can Democrats turn out those voters without Barack Obama on the ticket?
26th District (Chester County: Coatesville, Honey Brook)
- Tim Hennessey* (R) vs. Fern Kaufman (D)
- 2008 results: House: 52%R-48%D, Obama (55.6%)
- Fundraising: Hennessey $9,034; Kaufman $22,027
Onetime kibbutznik Fern Kaufman almost won this rapidly suburbanizing district in 2008, and she’s trying again this year. Her platform emphasizes civil liberties, health care, and land conservation; if elected, she would be the first openly lesbian member of the General Assembly. Rep. Hennessey, for his part, advocates property tax reform and efforts to keep doctors in Pennsylvania, which presumably includes keeping Dr. Kaufman at her job as a hospital pharmacist.
70th District (Montgomery County: Harleysville, Worcester, part of Norristown)
- Matt Bradford* (D) vs. Jay Moyer (R)
- 2008 results: House: 51%D-49%R, Obama (52.8%)
- Fundraising: Bradford $123,862; Moyer $24,498
Freshman Rep. Bradford will be touting his accomplishments in only one term in the General Assembly. So will Moyer; he won this seat in 2006 only to lose it to Bradford in 2008. Like the rematches in Chester County, this race will test whether the changed conditions from two years ago will affect Democrats’ ability to hold on to their new strongholds in the Delaware Valley. Bradford and Moyer are both among the top fundraisers in their party; Bradford’s five-to-one advantage indicates the Democrats’ fundraising prowess so far this year.
141st District (Bucks County: Levittown area)
- Tina Davis (D) vs. Kevin Glasson (R) (open seat)
- 2008 results: House: D unopposed, Obama (66.3%)
- Fundraising: Davis $24,913, Glasson $8,817
This race will test how much public opinion has turned against government spending: Davis’s platform touts her experience working to get economic development projects to the region, while Glasson declares that “spending is out of control in Harrisburg”. A Republican wave may be necessary to flip this district, which is in an area that voted solidly Democratic in 2008. If you’re interested in finding out more about this race, be advised that Tina Davis shares a name with the “other woman” in the troubled relationship between Chris Brown and Rihanna. Google with caution.
142nd District (Bucks County: Langhorne, Penndel)
- Frank Farry* (R) vs. John Toth (D)
- 2008 results: 52%R-48%D, Obama (55.2%)
- Fundraising: Farry $0, Toth $22,971
This district switched from Republican to Democratic in 2006, then back again two years later. John Toth, Democratic challenger, is running a reformist campaign. Toth advocates reducing the state legislature and a constitutional convention, and accuses Farry of having connections to controversial former House Speaker John Perzel (R-Philadelphia). Toth has the money to get this out; Farry, an attorney and volunteer fireman, will need to use whatever connections he has to catch up on fundraising.
151st District (Montgomery County: Ambler, Horsham)
- Rick Taylor* (D) vs. Todd Stephens (R)
- 2008 results: 51%D-49%R, Obama (57.1%)
- Fundraising: Taylor $113,973, Stephens $29,771
This is one of the districts that was Republican before the 2006 Democratic landslide. Both candidates are concerned about everyday, kitchen-table issues, but in a way typical of their parties: Taylor focuses on education and health care, while Stephens, an assistant district attorney, touts his law-and-order background and desire to improve the state’s business climate. Stephens describes himself as a “moderate republican [sic]” in the first sentence of his website biography, a wise move in a somewhat liberal area.
155th District (Chester County: Downingtown, Exton)
- Curt Schroder* (R) vs. Barbara Bergeron (D)
- 2008 results: R unopposed, Obama (52.5%)
- Fundraising: Schroder $27,903, Bergeron $13,950
For most Chester County Republicans, 2008 was a year to forget: Barack Obama became the first Democrat to carry the county since 1964, and Democrats increased their presence among its General Assembly delegation. Curt Schroder, though, skated to an unopposed victory in a district that Obama carried. He won’t get off as easily this year, though, since businesswoman Barbara Bergeron has thrown her hat into the ring. This was almost an open seat: when U. S. Rep. Jim Gerlach was running for governor, Rep. Schroder was interested in succeeding him in Washington, but when Gerlach decided to seek his old office instead, Schroder followed suit.
156th District (Chester County: West Chester area)
- Barbara McIlvaine Smith* (D) vs. Dan Truitt (R)
- 2008 results: 53%D-47%R, Obama (56.9%)
- Fundraising: Smith $0, Truitt $2,201
Barbara McIlvaine Smith is used to last-minute decisions. She needed a recount to confirm her victory (which gave the Democrats a one-vote House majority) in 2006, and planned on retiring before Democratic nominee Mark Stevens had to quit the race last month due to health reasons. This race features a strong contrast between Smith, who has the support of progressives, and Truitt, who is running on cutting taxes and spending. Since West Chester is the home of the largest state-controlled** university, this race will show whether the youth vote is as loyal to the Democrats as it was two years ago.
157th District (Chester and Montgomery Counties: Phoenixville, Paoli)
- Paul Drucker* (D) vs. Warren Kampf (R)
- 2008 results: 51%D-49%R, Obama (58.2%)
- Fundraising: Drucker $0, Kampf $30,401
The fictional blob that terrorized this region in the 1950s was red, but the area has seen a blue political blob in the past few election cycles. (Hey, it’s either Blob references or tasteless Nazi puns on Kampf’s name.) With the blue blob apparently receding, and Kampf holding a green blob in the bank, this has the makings of a tight race between two men who have similar backgrounds in law, business, and local government. The district contains part of the Main Line, a chain of suburbs that is often cited as an example of a wealthy, socially liberal area that has trended toward the Democrats since the early 1990s.
**State-controlled universities are part of the State System of Higher Education, as opposed to Penn State, Pitt, etc., which are state-supported.
Part III, covering the rest of eastern Pennsylvania, will be tomorrow. ( 8/19/10 Update: There are some snafus involving the Examiner website which are making publication of new articles slow. Part III is in line to go on the website; Part IV, on central and western Pennsylvania, will be on the next business day after Part III appears). If you have any more information on these races, or would like to make a case for a district not on this list, email me at [email protected]