Thursday, November 29, 2007

M(e)andering toward 2010

Another election down... already into the next election cycle. With so much of the presidential campaign going to be decided before Pennsylvania's primary, more local news will be generated by the parochial races. I earlier posted a map of the results from Pennsylvania's 4th congressional district in 2006 when Jason Altmire upset incumbent Melissa Hart. By all accounts that race looks to be a rematch in 2008. With national interest focused on these close congressional races, expect a lot of money to be poured into that race if nothing else.

There are also some signs of activity in Pennsylvania's 18th Congressional District. At least one Democrat has announced a challenge to incumbent Tim Murphy. It's a particularly tough row for a Democrat in PA18. After the post-2000 Census redistricting, the Pennsylvania redistricting was described as 'aggressive' and sponsored a supreme court case before all was said and done. There was little secret made in the desire to create a district that would swap one traditionally Democratic congressional district for a Republican one in Southwestern Pennsylvania. With the help of those darn computers a district was tailor made for then State Senator Tim Murphy who would win the seat. Jeff Toobin discussed the Pennsylvania redistricting history in this article in the New Yorker. In the end the effort may have backfired and according to no less of a conservative source than the Wall Street Journal the process didn't work out too well for Republicans in the long run.

All you need to do is take a look at what PA18 looks like to tell there must have been some ulterior logic behind the shape that results. The Rorschach test makers could not have done a better job, which is just a bit ironic since incumbent Congressman Murphy is a psychologist. This is what it looks like today:

This shape is often used by the League of Women Voters when they describe Pennsylvania legislative districts as 'deformed'. But last year there was a race between Tim Murphy and Chad Kluko for this district. Those results look like this:

Which looks pretty much like a blowout. Murphy won 58-42 over Kluko which was just under a16 point margin. Could a challenger win this seat? For perspective, that margin in 2006 is roughly half the margin in the mayor's race earlier in the month. That and there was no expectation of this being a close race so you didnt get much money or interest from either local or national Democrat fundraisers in this race. Their efforts were clearly focused elsewhere, like PA4 which was expected to be the close race that it was. In the end Kluko was outspent over 18 to one and literally ran out of money near the end (when money is the most important). At one point there had been talk that Stan Savran was thinking of running. You have to wonder if sheer name recognition would have earned him a few points over what the fairly unknown Kluko got... though it would have been tough to cover that margin completely.

Redistricting is not going to affect this coming election (or even the next), but we are getting closer to 2010 and a challenger in this race may just be laying the groundwork for a future run when the odds are a little better. One of the biggest impacts on future Pennsylvania politics could be the difference in who controls state government in a few years compared to the situation in 2001-2002 when redistricting last took place. Even the switch in the PA supreme court could be significant because there are provisions for redistricting to default to the Supreme Court if all else fails. Could the advantage of a Republican in this district be undrawn? One way or there other, SW PA congressional districts are going to look different after 2010 because other parts of the state have been growing faster and Pennsylvania is projected to lose a congressional seat. Taken together, most local districts could look awfully different in just a few years.

Tick tock.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. That district is not only mis-shapen, it's all over the map. Talk about ridiculous.

Thursday, November 29, 2007 9:21:00 AM  
Blogger fester said...

Chris --- I did some work with Tom Kovach, the other Dem. primary challenger in 2006, and this is tough but winnable district in a neutral to decent Democratic year as long as there is a good, energetic candidate and decent fundraising. Yeah, I know, there are more than a few IF statements there...

Murphy has a couple of personal problem rumors floating out there, reliability on the one's that I have heard are from B- to B+ quality, not enough to blog in detail, much less go to press on, and politically he has done a good job of at least appearing indepedent of the national GOP on signature votes. His biggest problem on a personality level is that he seems to treat his staff and people around him poorly, and he comes off a bit odd in small group discussions, or at least that is my memory of him.

He does a good job of capturing Reagan Democrats, [remember this district has a slight Dem. registration edge] and most importantly has done a good job of scaring off second tier, much less first tier competetive challengers since 2002.

Thursday, November 29, 2007 2:03:00 PM  
Blogger fester said...

Thinking about the 2011/2012 redistricting map, assuming Pennslyvania only loses 1 seat, here is what I would do for a Democratic favored map ---

PA-14 (Doyle's District) will need new population and I'll grab that by moving some of the more Republican precincts in the North Hills (Pine, Richland, Indiana townships etc.) away from PA-4 (Altmire) to give Altmire a little more breathing room; Have Altmire grab that tiny sliver of Washington county that went for Kluko as well as the Allegheny County precincts needed for the connection. Also have Doyle getting any near boundary split precincts in Pa-18... unload any PA-12 (Murtha) heavy GOP precincts into PA-18 and move his distict from +5 Dem to +7/8 Dem if possible to help whichever Dem runs to succeed him. Get PA-4 pushing as far north as possible into English's District as a true swing 52/48 district while seeing PA-14 move from a 70% Dem. Presidential District to a 60% Dem. Presidential District and isolating PA-18 as a 60/65% GOP Presidential District.

Thursday, November 29, 2007 2:10:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it's safe to assume PA will lose one seat, but it may lose two in 2012.

One of those will come from the SW, and if a second one goes, look for Philly (city) or the Scranton/WB area to lose.

A pro-Democratic plan: Altmire needs to shed his Butler Co. portions to English, and pick up the rest of the Shenango Valley in Mercer (ther rest of Mercer Co. is VERY Republican). Instead of Doyle gaining in the North Hills, he should give Altmire the AV river towns (Millvale, Reserve, Etna, Sharpsburg, etc) that are strongly Dem. At the same time, Doyle, who is an eastern suburb guy, should take the rest of the east from the 18th, and GOP Murrysville from Altmire; Altmire, from Lower Burrell originally, should take New Ken and the Burrells from Murtha.

The 18th should look more like the old Mascara District (Washington, Green, Fayette, with the South Hills Allegheny attached).

Murtha's district may end up being lost (he should be close to retirement by 2012 anyway); if not, Cambria and the bulk of Westmoreland can combine with Indiana, Armstrong, Clearfield, Elk, etc to form a marginal seat up for grabs (let Shuster have heavily GOP ligonier).

Thursday, November 29, 2007 2:54:00 PM  
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