Local and judicial elections are done. Time to eyeball Pennsylvania’s 2018 races for governor and U.S. Senate.
How do two incumbent Democrats do in a midterm election, the kind that historically favors candidates of the party not in the White House?
More important, how do the pair fare when the person in the White House isn’t faring all that well?
Right now, at least on paper and based on history, Gov. Wolf and Sen. Bob Casey are viewed by insiders of both parties as positioned to win reelection.
I know, I know. Things can happen. Things can change. And Wolf and Casey often resemble vanilla spread thin on wafers.
But as one top GOP state consultant put it, “Today, I’d rather be a Democrat running statewide in the Keystone State.”
Wolf, in other words, is at the door. Casey’s at the bat. Both, in part, due to President Trump.
National forecasts — the Cook Political Report, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Stuart Rothenberg’s Inside Elections – show both races leaning or likely Democratic.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll Sunday showed Trump’s approval rating is 37 percent, lowest of any incumbent at this point in his presidency. And the most recent public polling of Trump in Pennsylvania, a Morning Consult poll, shows the president’s approval rating dropped from 49 percent in January to 44 percent by late September.
In-state public polling during the same period showed Wolf and Casey (though far from wildly popular) with lower unfavorable numbers than Trump.
If history’s a guide, Election ’18 revolves around The Donald.
“I think Dems would like it to be that,” says Charlie Gerow, a Harrisburg-based GOP strategist, “but the conventional wisdom about Pennsylvania has been quite wrong over the last year or so.”
Yes, OK, 2016’s a cautionary tale when it comes to predicting outcomes.
Yet, Mike Mikus, a Western Pennsylvania Democratic operative, says party “energy and turnout” in a Democratic-majority state could well tie Wolf and Casey together and pull both to victory.
There’s no question Casey’s race draws national attention. And if, as expected, the GOP nominee is central Pennsylvania Rep. Lou Barletta, their head-to-head run is a perfect referendum on the incumbent president, the mark of a midterm election.
Barletta was an early and avid Trump supporter and remains firmly in Trump’s camp. Casey has become a leading Senate critic of Trump on everything from immigration to health care to tax reform.
Ah, but Washington’s Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call this week listed Casey as the nation’s 10th most vulnerable Senate incumbent (you may recall Trump won the state in 2016). And Barletta’s campaign quickly issued a statement noting Barletta “is running with the strong support of President Trump.”
Wolf’s reelection run could also end up a Trump referendum. The leading candidate in a still-very-young contested GOP primary is York County Sen. Scott Wagner, a Trump-type, brash, successful businessman out to cut government and taxes.
But Wagner must win a primary in May that, so far, includes up to three Allegheny County candidates: biz guy Paul Mango, big on the economy and health care; attorney and civic/political activist Laura Ellsworth, big on bringing competency to government; and possibly, though I still doubt it, House Speaker Mike Turzai, who if he runs would be big on saying he personally prevented big new taxes in the state’s current (very bad) budget.
Right now, the challenge for Republicans looks as if it’ll be making these races about state incumbents, not the White House incumbent. No small feat.
And challenges for Wolf and Casey will be to show their time in office, four years and 12 years, respectively, were good for the state — at a time incumbents and, for that matter, government aren’t topping taxpayers’ favorites lists.
Stay tuned. It’s right around the corner.