Look beyond the top of the ticket in 2020 and suddenly there are a litany of important questions that will influence the future of Pennsylvania politics for years to come.
Will the state’s attorney general secure reelection, potentially setting up a gubernatorial run two years from now?
Will the auditor general succeed in his own quest to unseat an incumbent and give Democrats a majority in the Pennsylvania congressional delegation?
Will Republicans retain control of the General Assembly, giving them the reins not only in the next session but over another redistricting process that will influence the upcoming decade of their races?
To sort out the top Pennsylvania political stories to watch for this year, we spoke with Kyle Kopko, a close observer and analyst of state and national politics. Kopko is an associate professor of political science at Elizabethtown College in Lancaster County and also holds the title of associate dean of institutional effectiveness, research and planning.
Here are five storylines to watch for in 2020, according to Kopko.
1. Depasquale v. Perry
In 2020, Pennsylvania’s congressional races will go through their second — and final — round under the new map implemented by the state Supreme Court in 2018.
Democrats and Republicans both have nine seats after those midterms. And the Democrats’ most likely chance to flip another seat will be in the 10th Congressional District now held by Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry. Outgoing Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is expected to easily secure the Democratic nomination for the seat, setting up an epic clash.
“I think that could be a bellwether type of race for some of the other competitive congressional races,” Kopko said.
Perry, in a new and more Democratic-heavy district, won reelection in 2018 by 2.6 percentage points — about 7,700 votes out of 291,000 votes cast.
“I definitely expect this to be a national race in many ways,” Kopko said of the district that also got an influx of national party resources in 2018.
2. Attorney, auditor generals
While Josh Shapiro had not officially announced his reelection bid for attorney general as of press time, Kopko said the Democrat may have an easy road ahead.
At least one Republican, Pittsburgh attorney Heather Heidelbaugh, is looking to run for the GOP nomination.
Shapiro has the inherent name recognition and incumbency advantages, and a three-year track record in which he got pretty favorable national publicity for handling the probe into sexual abuse in Pennsylvania’s Catholic Dioceses and for “cleaning up” the office after former Attorney General Kathleen Kane left in scandal, Kopko said.
With several candidates vying for auditor general nominations, it’s still unclear who will be on the ballot to replace DePasquale. But Kopko said it’s possible two Lancaster County candidates get the nods from the state parties: former Republican county commissioner Dennis Stuckey and former Democratic congressional candidate Christina Hartman.
3. Not just 2020
Beyond the statewide races in 2020, Kopko said the 2022 gubernatorial race also will “start to take shape” this year.
“The thing to look for is will there be movement on Pat Toomey’s part (to make a run),” Kopko said.
The twice-elected Republican U.S. senator will be up for reelection the same year but is considering a run for governor. He would instantly be the shoo-in for the nomination and give the Republicans a boost in the general election.
The Democratic field is “much more complicated,” Kopko said. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Shapiro could both go for the nomination. And if DePasquale doesn’t win the congressional seat this year, he could jump into the gubernatorial fray himself, Kopko said.
4. State House and Senate
Kopko said he doesn’t expect the Republican-controlled state House and Senate to flip to Democratic control in 2020, when all 203 House seats and half of the 50 Senate seats will be on the ballot.
Republicans will have a 15-seat advantage in the House and an eight-seat advantage in the Senate in 2020.
With changing demographics and retirements, especially in the southeast, Democrats will likely gain some ground in both chambers — but probably not enough to take control of either, Kopko said.
Luzerne County’s Sen. John Yudichak’s recent party switch from Democrat to independent also didn’t help his former party’s chances, Kopko said.
“With Yudichak switching sides, they basically have to run the table on any of the competitive races,” Kopko said. “It’s doable, but the odds are against them.”
5. Legislative activity
When lawmakers return to Harrisburg this month, pressure will be on the House to pass the minimum wage proposal passed by the Senate. The Wolf administration agreed to the change and said if the House doesn’t pass the bill, it will proceed with a vote by a regulatory board to extend overtime pay eligibility.
Kopko said Republican sentiment about a wage hike could outweigh concerns over the overtime rules, leading to inaction by the House and the minimum wage staying where it is.