Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court prompted cheers from Democrats on Monday when it released the new boundaries it drew for the state’s 18 congressional districts.
The new map, which the court created after ruling earlier this month that the previous, GOP-gerrymandered map had unconstitutionally disenfranchised voters, gives Democrats the opportunity to compete in eight districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016, compared with six she carried under the old map.
But in a central Pennsylvania district where two formidable Democratic hopefuls already have raised serious cash, the new electoral map is foreboding.
Pennsylvania’s 16th Congressional District, which leaned modestly Republican, is now the deep red 11th District.
While the previous district included the city of Lancaster, surrounding suburbs and the city of Reading ― which has a diverse population ― the more geographically contiguous new district excludes Reading and adds swaths of conservative, rural York County.
The result is that a district President Donald Trump won by 7 percentage points is now a district he would have carried by 26 points, according to calculations by the New York Times. (Any further reference to Trump’s margin in the new congressional districts is attributable to the Times.)
It also went from having an R+5 partisan voter index to R+14, according to the Cook Political Report, which compiles the figure to show how a district voted in the presidential election compared to the country as a whole.
“It would be hard to get people to invest further in that race,” a prominent Democrat familiar with the national party’s considerations said of the newly drawn 11th District. “The natural thing for several Democrats … is either to move or drop out.”
Overall in Pennsylvania, Republicans hold 12 of the 18 U.S. House districts, with one seat that had been in GOP hands vacant. Trump carried the state by less than a percentage point. GOP leaders have indicated they will challenge the state Supreme Court’s redrawn map in federal court, but legal experts give them little chance of having it voided.
That’s good news in general for Democrats as they seek to win the House majority in this year’s midterm elections. Still, in the 11th District, the new boundaries are disruptive because of the heated state of the Democratic primary where many of the national divides between the party establishment and its more populist faction have begun to play out.
The two leading Democrats in the race are Christina Hartman, a former international development specialist running as a mainstream Democrat, and Jess King, a nonprofit leader who is running on a more populist, left-wing platform that includes support for “Medicare for all.”
King and Hartman had both raised more than $300,000 as of the end of 2017.
Upon learning of the new redistricting map, Hartman issued a brief Facebook statement praising the decision and saying she would be “studying these maps closely to determine our next moves.”
Hartman made clear in an interview with HuffPost that the new district, replete with Trump supporters, would make it harder for a Democrat to win the seat. Her victory strategy hinged in part on attracting the backing of moderate Republicans disenchanted with Trump.
She is seriously considering ending her bid, and said she will decide by the middle of next week.
“We have to look at the best strategy moving forward and figure out what that is for my district and for myself,” she said.
King sounded a more upbeat note in her response to the new map, claiming on Facebook that the tough nature of the race is “nothing new.”
“Our campaign has never been about Democrats versus Republicans,” King wrote. “Our campaign is about building an America that truly works all of us, not just for the rich and powerful who rig the game in Washington.”
But the King campaign’s communications director, Guido Girgenti, told HuffPost that the candidate has “been spending time talking with friends and family and thinking this over.”
Girgenti also said that a planned phone-banking marathon to introduce King to new Democratic and independent constituents would continue as planned this weekend, manned by volunteers in 25 homes.
Meanwhile, an adjacent congressional district is suddenly within Democrats’ grasp. The former 4th Congressional District has become the 10th. With the addition of Hershey and previously excluded sections of Harrisburg, it went from a district Trump won by 21 percentage points to one he would have carried by 9 points.
Democrats Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson, a former Obama administration budget official, and retired career military officer George Scott are already vying to unseat Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) in the district. In light of the new map, Democrats have also approached Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale about jumping in the race.
Petitions for House candidates to be on the ballot are due in Pennsylvania by March 20 and DePasquale said on Twitter that he would make his decision before petition collection starts in earnest.
The biggest swings in Democrats favor were in eastern Pennsylvania districts where party leaders already liked their chances. In Philadelphia’s suburbs, the old 7th District ― infamously gerrymandered to look like “Goofy kicking Donald Duck” ― is now the 5th District.
Clinton won the old district by 2 percentage points, but would have carried the reconfigured one by a 28-point margin. And with the retirement of GOP Rep. Patrick Meehan amid sexual harassment allegations, the seat is now open. Democrat Rich Lazer, who has close ties to area labor unions, is considering a run for the seat, according to Daily Kos, which provided a rundown of other candidates as well.
Republican prospects also have been hurt in suburban Philadelphia’s 6th District, which now includes the heavily Democratic city of Reading. GOP Rep. Ryan Costello already faced a well-funded challenger in Democrat Chrissy Houlahan, a career naval officer, business executive and public school teacher. He must now defeat Houlahan in a district that would have gone for Clinton by 9 percentage points, compared with the 1 point victory she had in it.
In the Lehigh Valley north of Philadelphia, Democrats like their odds more in the new 1st District than they did in the old 15th. The retirement of Republican Rep. Charlie Dent, a popular moderate, had already sent Democrats scrambling to pick up the seat. With the addition of the city of Easton and Democratic-leaning towns in the Poconos region, the district went from one that Trump took by 8 percentage points to one where Clinton would have defeated him by a single point.
Democrats competing for the seat span the ideological spectrum. John Morganelli, a long-serving district attorney in the area who has praised Trump, is running as a self-described moderate. Under the new map, he noted in an email to supporters, the county where he is a prosecutor is now a larger part of the district.
Attorney Susan Wild and pastor Greg Edwards, a civil rights activist with the endorsement of national liberal groups, are vying for the progressive mantle. Thus far, Edwards has outraised Wild ― and his campaign believes the new district helps his chances in the primary.
“General election viability, which is often an excuse to dismiss progressive candidates, is really no longer in play” now that the district leans more Democratic, said Dan Friedman, an Edwards campaign spokesman.
And while the new district boundaries do not affect the March 13 special election for the vacant seat in southwest Pennsylvania’s 18th District, they could help Democrats in that area in November.
The home of Democrat Conor Lamb, a former federal prosecutor running in the special election, has been redistricted into the 17th District. Even if Lamb loses next month, he will have a chance to challenge Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus in the new 17th District that includes more Democratic-leaning Pittsburgh suburbs than before. Trump won the old 17th District by 21 percentage points, but would have carried the new one by just 3 points.
Finally, there is at least one Pennsylvania district where Democrats’ fortunes appear to remain almost exactly the same. Trump won what was the 17th District in northeast Pennsylvania’s by 10 percentage points, and that would have been his margin in what is now the 8th District.
Rep. Matt Cartwright, a liberal Democrat, was re-elected in 2016 by nearly 8 percentage points. His staff estimated that about 30,000 people in the district voted for him and Trump, Cartwright told HuffPost.
But Cartwright said he isn’t worried about the electoral impact of the changes.
He plans to hold a March 4 town hall in Pike County to introduce himself to new constituents. And one advantage of the geographically compact new district is that Cartwright’s new constituents were already in his campaign media market, he said.
“Even though they haven’t been represented by me, some of these people know me and know what I’m about,” he said.