Pennsylvania 08 (PA-08): A Bellwether House Race?

Steve Santarsiero - PA-08As we finally get to the meat of the general election, we are off to Pennsylvania’s Eighth Congressional District (PA-08) which is an open seat and a toss up. When I checked the Cook Political Report today, there were a lot more toss ups than there were a month ago. This is more evidence that the top of the ticket is having a real impact down ticket.

The District

PA-08 was one of the pick-ups in the 2006 Democratic wave year, and kept in 2008. However, it was lost to the Republicans in 2010 and has stayed that way since then. When people talk about gerrymandering, they typically point to Pennsylvania as a particularly bad case, which greatly benefits the Republicans. But President Obama only narrowly lost PA-08 to Mitt Romney in 2012, so it is possible pick-up for the Democrats.

There also has been enough time with enough people moving around to allow it to flip. My general impression is that about six years after redistricting, seats become open enough to flip. We’ll see if that’s the case this year.

Incumbent Michael Fitzpatrick has decided to honor a pledge he made to serve only a certain number of terms and is not up for re-election. But don’t consider him too honorable. His brother, Brian Fitzgerald, is running for his seat now. It seems kind of like a trick — a loophole in Michael Fitzpatrick’s promise, but I guess the people of PA-08 will decide.

The Candidates for PA-08

Brian Fitzpatrick - PA-08Brian Fitzpatrick is a former FBI agent who is campaigning on a “law and order” appeal. He has several obvious advantages. Primarily, he has name recognition and a great list of campaign donors thanks for his brother. But also, having worked the Campaign Finance and Election Crimes Unit at the FBI, he speaks with authority on “law and order” issues. He is definitely playing down the partisanship based on his Facebook page. But overall, his campaign website has the standard Republican boilerplate with only one thing that looks like it comes from the candidate personally.

Over on the Democratic side, State Representative Steve Santarsiero from District 31 won his primary on April 26th. Serving at the statehouse since 2013, he has pushed quite a few reforms regarding campaign finance, fracking, and gun control. He even called for a constitutional convention for campaign finance reform. Santarsiero is not only not running from his party, he is embracing it. He is also definitely trying to tie Fitzpatrick to Trump.

Who Will Represent PA-08

As usual, it is difficult to say how this election will turn out. (I don’t write about races where the outcomes are clear.)

On the one hand, Fitzpatrick may be considered an interloper merely running to keep the seat for the Republicans (and in the family). On the other, he has actual experience fighting campaign finance crimes and knows what he is campaigning on.

Santarsiero is an experienced campaigner who is well known in his own district while Fitzpatrick is a political newbie. So Fitzgerald may be tripped up by common beginner mistakes. His refusal to take a position on Trump might hurt him as well.

Time will tell.