Why An Obama Ticket Helps the GOP, Particularly in State House Races

Posted on April 11, 2008. Filed under: PA State House, PA State Senate |

The GOP margin in the state senate, currently 29R/21D, will continue to stay strong.  In the State Senate, six state senators have announced their retirement – three Republicans and three Democrats – so expect lively races to fill these open seats, but none are likely to produce seats that swap from R to D or vise versa.  One potential seat in question is State Sen. Bob Regola (R-39, Westmoreland), who is being investigated due to the accidential shooting death of his son’s neighborhood friend, who died from an apparent self-inflicted gun shot wound from a gun owned by Sen. Regola, which court documents say was obtained from Sen. Regola’s house.  This is a Democrat seat in voter registration, but has trended Republican in recent years due to support from Reagan Democrats.  Sen. Regola’s personal reputation in the district will be the deciding factor, and if he can rehabilitate his image and at the same time, convince voters his opponent is not a viable alternative, he may be able to win reelection.  Expect this race to get ugly if Regola stays in the race, since the GOP will need to define the Democratic nominee in a very unfavorable light to keep the seat in GOP hands.

In 2006, House Democrats regained the majority in the lower chamber for the first time since 1994 but only by the thinnest margin of one vote. But now the so-called “Bonusgate” investigation by the state attorney general is putting that majority in jeopardy. So far, there have been no actual indictments related specifically to the probe, which involves allegations that state-funded bonuses were given to some House Democratic staffers for work performed on political campaigns rather than state duties. Bonuses for staffers in the GOP House and Senate caucuses are also being investigated.

The strategy for the Democrats will be to hold onto seats they snatched away from Republicans in 2006, including Rep. Tim Seip (D-125, Schuylkill), Rep. Rick Taylor (D-151, Montgomery), Rep. Chris King (D-142, Bucks), Rep. David Kessler (D-130, Berks), Rep. Scott Conklin (D-77, Centre), Rep. Bryan Lentz (D-161, Delaware), Rep. Barbara McIlvaine Smith (D-156, Chester) at the same time, pick up a few “insurance” seats primarily by focusing on several open seats formerly held by Republicans in the Southeast that are trending Democratic in voting trends. 

The strategy for the GOP to reclaim the majority will be to hold open seats in the Southeast due to GOP retirements, and more importantly, defeat incumbent Democrats in marginal seats where Republican performance is strong.  Our early polling indicates that if Barack Obama is the Democratic nominee for president, more Democratic incumbents, particularly in rural and Western PA districts will be in play given how well McCain is polling in these same districts. In some cases, our polling shows McCain 20 points or more ahead of Obama in competitive House districts, while a McCain/Clinton match-up is a dead heat. This means the straight ticket vote for the Democrats will be minimized, and GOP candidates will be able to win more McCain votes down ballot from both Republicans and conservative Democrats.  Or, with an Obama ticket, more Democrats in these districts might stay home on Election Day. This means most GOP candidates should prey for an Obama ticket in November to help their prospects, and this gives the House Republicans a much-needed lift in their prospects to reclaim the majority, which we still think is less than a 50:50 chance of happening. However, an Obama ticket is probably the only chance the GOP has. 

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