Pennsylvania’s year in political spotlight ending
By MARK SCOLFORO and MARC LEVY
HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania voters can’t say they’ve been ignored this year, given the state’s status as a premier battleground in the presidential race and the site of a hotly contested campaign for U.S. Senate.
The dozens of visits by Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump, or their surrogates, are ending, along with TV campaign ads that have become inescapable in recent months.
The Senate race between Republican incumbent U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and Democrat Katie McGinty has been neck-and-neck, and the outcome could determine whether Republicans retain their majority in the chamber.
There are also a slew of contested legislative races up for grabs. Republicans aren’t likely to lose their solid majorities in both the House and Senate, but Democrats are hoping to chip away at the margins.
Here’s what the state’s voters can expect Tuesday, when polls open at 7 a.m.:
Despite concentrating money and effort in Pennsylvania, Trump has struggled to overcome a modest but sturdy lead by Clinton in the polls. The base of Clinton’s support is in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh regions, while Trump is getting his strongest support in western, central and northeastern Pennsylvania.
The last Republican to win Pennsylvania in a presidential election was George H.W. Bush in 1988. No Democrat has won the White House without Pennsylvania’s support since 1948.
Democrat Katie McGinty is challenging first-term Republican Sen. Pat Toomey for the next six-year term in the U.S. Senate. Also qualifying for the ballot is Libertarian Edward Clifford. Polls show a close race between McGinty and Toomey in a contest that could tip control of the chamber next year. Spending on the race is on track to pass $160 million in one of the nation’s most closely watched and expensive Senate campaigns.
There are 15 contested races for Pennsylvania’s 18 seats in the U.S. House, with voters replacing two retiring members — Republicans Joe Pitts and Mike Fitzpatrick — while Democrat Chaka Fattah resigned in June following his conviction in a federal racketeering case. The most hotly contested race, in suburban Philadelphia’s closely divided 8th District, is between Democratic state Rep. Steve Santarsiero and Fitzpatrick’s brother, Brian Fitzpatrick, a Republican. Pennsylvania’s current U.S. House delegation is 13 Republicans and five Democrats, including Fattah’s seat.
Democratic Attorney General Kathleen Kane resigned in August after being convicted of leaking secret grand jury material to a reporter and lying about it. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf nominated her one-time top aide, Bruce Beemer, to lead the agency in the interim.
The contest to take over the 800-employee office, and become the state’s top-ranking law enforcement officer, is between Democrat Josh Shapiro, an elected commissioner in Montgomery County, and Republican state Sen. John Rafferty, also from Montgomery County.
Democrat Joe Torsella, a former chairman of the State Board of Education, and Republican Otto Voit, a businessman, are seeking the office. Also on the ballot are the Green Party’s Kristin Combs and the Libertarian Party’s James Babb. The current state treasurer, Timothy A. Reese, was nominated by Wolf to serve the rest of Rob McCord’s term. McCord stepped down as treasurer last year before pleading guilty to federal attempted extortion charges.
The treasurer oversees the Treasury Department, a 360-employee agency that processes $90 billion in payments every year to state employees, pensioners, schools, hospitals, contractors and others. It’s the custodian of more than $100 billion in public money, including pension funds.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale faces three challengers as he seeks a second term as the state’s fiscal watchdog. Taking on the Democratic incumbent are Republican John Brown, Green Party nominee John J. Sweeney and Libertarian Roy Minet. The 400-plus employee office monitors government spending and activity, and suggests ways to improve operations and policies.
Republicans hold strong margins in both chambers of the General Assembly, and it’s highly unlikely they will lose either majority this year. In the Senate, GOP strategists say they could add to their 31 to 19 margin, given that Democrats have more seats to defend. The House, currently 119-84 in favor of Republicans, will almost certainly see some seats change parties, as the large Republican majority plays defense in southeastern Pennsylvania’s swing districts.
JUDICIAL RETIREMENT AGE
Voters will have to decide whether to change the state constitution to raise the mandatory retirement age from 70 to 75 for about 1,000 judges statewide.
Supporters argue that judges have specialized knowledge and many people are able to work productively into their 70s. Opponents say it can be difficult to remove a judge who has lost the mental capacity to do what can be a challenging job.
If the proposal fails, Republican Chief Justice Thomas Saylor will have to retire at the end of next month and Democratic Justice Max Baer by the end of next year. The vote will also have implications for county judges.
The ballot referendum was on the spring primary ballot and narrowly lost. The results weren’t official, however, because shortly before the April primary, lawmakers rushed through a measure that invalidated any results and put off the official vote until the November election.