Democrats Ahead By Double Digits in Pennsylvania Poll

Incumbent Governor Tom Wolf and incumbent Senator Bob Casey are far ahead of their Republican challengers, according to a newly released poll of Pennsylvania voters from Franklin & Marshall College.  Casey, who is running for his third term in the U.S. Senate, leads Republican candidate Lou Bareltta 44-27, with 23 percent of voters still undecided.  Wolf, who is running for reelection as governor of the Keystone State, leads Republican State Sen. Scott Wagner 48-29, with 23 percent of voters still undecided.

The same poll gives President Donald Trump a 35 percent approval rating, compared to 52 percent who say he is doing a poor job. The poll is problematic for Republicans on tax cuts and health care, two of the biggest issues in this election cycle. Only 33 percent of voters said they had seen an increase in household income because of the tax cuts signed into law last year. Only 41 percent of voters said the Trump administration had made “significant changes” to the Affordable Care Act. More ominously, 52 percent of voters said that changes to the Affordable Care Act would make the health care system worse for their family.

Pennsylvania had been considered a potential pickup opportunity for Senate Republicans because of Donald Trump’s upset victory in the state in 2016. However, this poll, as well as the redrawn congressional map by the State Supreme Court, and Conor Lamb’s upset victory in a congressional special election last April, would seem to indicate otherwise.

Larry Sabato and the Cook Political Report list both Pennsylvania races as Likely Democratic.

The Senate Democrats’ Rough 2018 Cycle

These are the senators up for re-election in 2018 – in the case of many Democrats, they are the ones who got elected by riding Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election coattails.

  • Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
  • John Barrasso (R-WY)
  • Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
  • Ben Cardin (D-MD)
  • Tom Carper (D-DE)
  • Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
  • Bob Casey (D-PA)
  • Bob Corker (R-TN)
  • Ted Cruz (R-TX)
  • Joe Donnelly (D-IN)
  • Dianne Feinstein (D-CA)
  • Deb Fischer (R-NE)
  • Jeff Flake (R-AZ)
  • Kristin Gillibrand (D-NY)
  • Orrin Hatch (R-UT)
  • Dean Heller (R-NV)
  • Martin Heinrich (D-NM)
  • Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)
  • Mazie Hirono (D-HI)
  • Tim Kaine (D-VA)
  • Angus King (I-ME)
  • Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
  • Joe Manchin (D-WV)
  • Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
  • Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
  • Chris Murphy (D-CT)
  • Bill Nelson (D-FL)
  • Bernie Sanders (I-VT)
  • Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
  • Jon Tester (D-MT)
  • Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
  • Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)
  • Roger Wicker (R-MS)

Most of these seats are generally safe for the incumbent or the incumbent party. The problem for Democrats is they will be defending more seats this cycle (23, and two independents in Maine and Vermont) than the Republicans (8).  Republicans will likely have a 52-48 majority in the Senate for the next two years (pending on the outcome of the Louisiana Senate runoff election scheduled for December).  If Democrats are to retake the Senate, they need a net gain of 3 seats. This is going to be very difficult because many of them represent states won by Donald Trump (red is solid Republican, purple is swing state, blue is solid Democrat):

  • Baldwin
  • Brown
  • Casey
  • Heitkamp
  • Manchin
  • McCaskill
  • Nelson
  • Stabenow
  • Tester

Heitkamp, Manchin, McCaskill and Tester are particularly vulnerable because of the states they represent, so out of self-preservation they may vote for Trump nominees and legislation to save face back home.  The other states are traditionally Democratic, but given that Trump won them in 2016 and that Democrats tend to have less reliable turnout for midterm elections, they can’t take anything for granted.

On the other hand, the Democrats’ best opportunities for a pickup are in purple or purple-leaning states:

  • Flake
  • Heller

Arizona has historically been a safely Republican state, but Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton here 49-45, probably a closer margin than state Republicans would like. Nevada Democrats – led by the Harry Reid political machine – ran the table and won every race in the state. If Democrats recruit a solid candidate and the Reid machine can put together another performance like they did in 2016, Heller could be their biggest chance for a pickup opportunity.

A lot can happen in two years. The political dynamics, such as the state of the economy, will determine which party benefits. Historically, the party in the White House tends to lose congressional seats during the midterm elections. But right now, two years out, it’s looking difficult for Senate Democrats.