A Pennsylvania district that President Donald Trump won by 20 points in 2016 looks like a toss up Thursday, according to the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
With just days to go before the special election in Pennsylvania’s 18th district, the Center for Politics’ Sabato’s Crystal Ball has moved their rating of the seat from “leans Republican” to a “toss-up.” That’s quite a shift from Trump’s landslide win there less than a year and a half ago. While many Democrats are rightly hesitant to predict that Democrats can take down Trump-styled candidates, Sabato’s managing editor Kyle Kondik wrote Thursday morning that there were a number of reasons they changed the PA-18 rating.
Firstly, Kondik wrote, Democrats have been consistently running on average 13 points ahead of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 margin, and Democratic candidate Conor Lamb has significantly out-raised his Republican rival, state Rep. Rick Saccone. As Kondik noted, Lamb has raised $3.9 million ahead of next week’s special election, while Saccone has only raised about $920,000, forcing outside Republican groups to pour more than $10 million in an effort to rescue their man.
Additionally, Democrats actually have a party registration advantage in the district — a result of strong union organizing in the area — though many of those Democrats have voted for Trump and other Republicans in the past.
Republicans appear to be apprehensive about the race, too. On Wednesday night, Politico reported that the GOP is bracing for an embarrassing defeat in the district next week and that the national Republican party has already begun to look for ways to pin the possibility of a loss on Saccone, who has “leaned excessively” on the national party infrastructure.
“In a tough political environment, candidate quality matters more than ever,” Kevin Spain, a former National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) senior aide told Politico. “In an anti-GOP year — which this is shaping up to be — the Republican candidates will need to run much stronger campaigns or be prepared for the national party to cut them loose.”
Spain is certainly right: It is shaping up to be an anti-GOP year. Democrats often see a burst of success in the midterms when a Republican is in the Oval Office and vice versa, and Sabato’s made 25 other ratings changes Thursday, all of which were in favor of Democrats.
“After these ratings changes, for the first time this cycle we have fewer than 218 seats (the number needed for a majority) at least leaning to the Republicans,” Kondik wrote.
Perhaps the most interesting rating change is a shift in Wisconsin’s first district, which is currently represented by House Speaker Paul Ryan. The district is Republican-leaning on paper, according to Sabato’s, but the rating change reflects uncertainty surrounding Ryan’s future, Kondik wrote. Obama won WI-01 in 2008, while Mitt Romney (with Ryan on the ticket as his vice president) won the district by four points in 2012. Trump won the district by 10 points in 2016.
But, again, 2018 looks to be an anti-GOP year, and districts where Trump won by 20 — like PA-18 — suddenly look like toss-ups.
More importantly to Sabato’s, however, there is increasing speculation that Ryan might not run for reelection, perhaps joining the record number of House Republicans who have announced they will not run for re-election ahead of the midterms.
If Ryan does run, he appears to have a formidable challenger in Democrat Randy Bryce, an iron worker who has amassed a war chest of more than $2.6 million as of last December. Bryce told ThinkProgress last month that he believes he has a winning strategy to take down Ryan, too.
“I’m the kind of person that we need to get rid of him,” Bryce said, “[because] I’m the opposite of what he is.”