Pivotal Politics: Pennsylvania’s Crucial Role in the 2018 Midterms

by Trevor Waldron

For the second time in less than two years, Pennsylvania will play a pivotal role in a federal election cycle. With the redrawing of the Commonwealths congressional districts, coupled with multiple incumbent retirements from the U.S House delegation, Pennsylvania is poised to become a political battle as the 2018 mid-term elections ramp up.

First-term midterm elections are historically bad for the party that holds power, and in many cases are viewed as a referendum on the current administration. The 2018 elections are nothing different in that regard. What is different this year are the many complex and unusual circumstances that have led to the recent redistricting in Pennsylvania and the state’s new pivotal position in the upcoming national elections. It is the goal of this essay to provide a brief overview of the events leading up to Pennsylvania’s new congressional map and produce an analysis of potential ramifications from the PA Supreme Courts recent redistricting decision on the make-up of the United States House of Representatives.


The League of Women Voters and a group of Democratic citizens filed a lawsuit in 2017 arguing that the Congressional Map put into place in 2011 was unconstitutional according to the Pennsylvania State Constitution. The essence of the language in the lawsuit was that the 2011 Congressional Map discriminated against democratic voters. The PA Supreme Court chose to hear the case in early 2018 and the situation intensified from there.

In January of 2018, the PA Supreme Court heard oral arguments and subsequently issued a decision overturning the 2011 Congressional Map. This decision initiated a period in which the state legislature would draft a new map and submit it to the governor for approval or veto. In early February, the United States Supreme Court rejected a request for a stay from the State Senate President and State House Speaker, in which they claim that the PA Supreme Court took power away from the State Assembly, per the United States Constitution. Following the initiation of said lawsuit, the State Legislature submitted a new map to Governor Wolf, who rejected the plan. State Democratic Leaders and the Governor then submitted their own plan directly to the PA Supreme Court, who began drafting a version of a new Congressional map with the help of an outside consultant. A new Congressional map was presented, and Congressional candidates statewide now have a nomination petition deadline of March 20th, separate from all other candidates in the commonwealth.

The information listed above is consolidated to provide a brief background of the events that lead to the new 7th Congressional District in the Lehigh Valley, formerly the 15th District. If you are interested in a more complex overview of the situation, the Philadelphia Inquirer has published an article that provides more context.

Where We Stand

So, what does this new congressional map mean for the future of the Lehigh Valley and the makeup of the United States House of Representatives after the 2018-midterm elections?

Nationally, many politicos see the March 13th Special Election in Western Pennsylvania, where the two candidates, Rick Saccone and Connor Lamb, who will never face each other again, as a preview to the elections in November. As I have mentioned in a previous article, middle-class, white voters were essential to Trump’s victory.

Pennsylvania being a Rust Belt state, is full of these types of voters. Depending on their view of the President and the Party, rust belt voters may once again play a pivotal role in determining the outcome of both the March 13th Special Election and the 2018 Midterms, if they show up to vote.

Locally, the new 7th Congressional District is radically different from the former 15th District. The two remaining Republican Candidates, Olympic Gold Medalist and President of the Lehigh County Board of Commissioner Marty Nothstein, and former Lehigh County Commissioner and Local Businessman Dean Browning, will face off in the May Primary. The winner of that race will then become the Republican nominee for the November General Election. The Lehigh Valley has been represented by a Republican since the late 1990’s, with outgoing GOP Congressman Charlie Dent holding the seat since 2004.
In short, Pennsylvania is once again positioned to be a determining factor in the makeup of the federal government, just as it was in the 2016 Presidential Elections when President Trump won the state. Over the past two years, Pennsylvania has certainly earned the title of “Swing State.” Judging by the issues currently at play, “swing state” is a title the Commonwealth will hold well into the future depending on the outcome of the federal courts ruling on the states redistricting.

Lai, Jonathan. “Pennsylvania, gerrymandered: A guide to Pa.s congressional map redistricting fight – Philly.” Philly.com. March 09, 2018. Accessed March 10, 2018. http://www.philly.com/philly/news/politics/state/pennsylvania-gerrymandering-case-congressional-redistricting-map-coverage-guide-20180308.html.

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