What to watch for in Pa. primary

Alan Novak and T.J. Rooney on what to look for in Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary, from the top of the ticket to local races.

Novak: I am just fascinated by the run-up to the Republican convention. I'll be watching which of the unbound delegates get elected in each congressional district. Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich are all reaching out, schmoozing, and working to get representatives to gatherings where delegates might attend. Kasich is actually meeting with delegates in the southeast, so I'll be watching that.

Rooney: I am going to pay attention to how robust of a challenge Sen. Bernie Sanders makes in Pennsylvania to Secretary Hillary Clinton. This could impact the rest of the races. If Clinton wins a large, decisive victory, as she did in New York last Tuesday, that is going to benefit something like Katie McGinty's U.S. Senate race because it will draw out women voters.

The other place the presidential primary could have an impact is in the Democrat primary for attorney general. If Sanders gets a concentration of votes in certain areas, such as Philadelphia, it could have an impact on the outcome of what could be a close race.

Novak: The Democratic U.S. Senate primary is worth watching. McGinty is closing and has a big money advantage. The Joe Sestak people are loyal to Sestak, but there are still a large amount of undecided voters, and how those undecideds break may largely be influenced by the money spent, outreach, and commercials. McGinty has a big advantage over Sestak at least in media buys.

Rooney: I am calling her Katie "Momentum" McGinty. In every respect, she is the insurgent, and I feel she is going to be successful.

Novak: In the attorney general's race, I'll be watching whether Steve Zappala's connection to the Philadelphia trade unions offsets Josh Shapiro's popularity in the southeast. Shapiro has built an interesting campaign organization that reaches farther into the state, which frankly I thought he would be able to do.

Rooney: Shapiro is a very popular Montgomery County commissioner. In addition to Zappala, Northumberland County District Attorney John Morganelli, a 25-year veteran prosecutor, is also in the race. The Zappala name is a gold standard in Pennsylvania politics, especially on the Democratic side. As a result, some folks who you might otherwise assume would be for Shapiro, just from a regional perspective, are supporting Zappala. Whoever prevails in the Democratic primary will be the odds-on favorite in the fall. It's a battle of political heavyweights, and the outcome will largely determine who the next attorney general will be.

Novak: There are congressional races worth looking at. One is for the 16th District, the retiring Joe Pitts' seat in Lancaster and Chester Counties, where the endorsed Republican candidate - State Sen. Lloyd Smucker - is fighting off a very strong challenge from Chet Beiler, a former party insider who is running as an outsider.

Rooney: There is also a pretty hotly contested primary taking place in the Eighth Congressional District. That is an open seat - Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick is retiring and his brother appears to be the front-runner for the Republican nomination, so it's like three-quarters of an open seat. On the Democratic side, it would appear that State Rep. Steve Santarsiero would have a lead, although his opponent, Shaughnessy Naughton, was the nominee two years ago and is somebody who cannot, should not, and will not be taken for granted.

And of course, a lot of people are patched into the Second Congressional District race, where State Rep. Dwight Evans is vigorously challenging incumbent Chaka Fattah. Evans has secured the support of many prominent Philadelphia Democrats, which is unusual in the sense that Fattah is a long-term incumbent. But, Fattah is under indictment and facing trial immediately after the primary. It has certainly impeded his ability to raise money. At the same time, Evans has raised an incredible amount of money in a relatively short time.

Novak: That Fattah-Evans race is a heated one. Smucker and Beiler are also turning up the heat in the 16th District. Both of those guys are typical Lancaster County businessmen - low-profile, not screamers, really mellow guys - but you wouldn't know it from their campaign literature. It reminds me of boxing's "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler/Tommy "Hitman" Hearns fight. It was only eight minutes long, but it was eight minutes where they didn't do any dancing. They just got in the middle of the ring and pounded each other. That's the way this race is being run, which is atypical of the Lancaster County-style of campaigning. The big question there is: Will the endorsed candidate prevail?

Rooney: This is a little geographically far afield, in southwest Pennsylvania, but there is another race that has a direct impact on folks in eastern Pennsylvania. That's the race in the Ninth Congressional District.

Rep. Bill Shuster, who happens to be the chairman of the House Transportation Committee, is being challenged by Art Halvorson, who had run previously for the office and has substantial resources of his own. The chairman of the Transportation Committee controls tremendous resources, and I think sometimes, when folks become swept up in the political environment du jour, we lose sight of the fact that the people who have high rankings in Congress actually deliver resources for Pennsylvania.

Novak: I was just out there in Blair County, which is in the heart of that district. There are signs that it's a vigorous challenge. The other race like that is local.

Congressman Pat Meehan, in the Seventh District, is getting a vigorous challenge from Stan Casacio. He is accusing Meehan of being a party insider. Like Shuster, Meehan is one of the more substantive leaders and rising stars in the Republican majority in Congress. That is what Casacio's TV and radio ads have been hammering on him for weeks! I don't expect Meehan to be defeated in the primary, nor do I expect him to lose in the general, but his race, like Shuster's, reflects the antiestablishment movement out there.

Rooney: We have this history in Pennsylvania of unseating people who can help Pennsylvania. I don't think either Shuster or Meehan will be unseated, but that groundswell is rearing its head in some of these races for what would otherwise be very popular incumbents.

Beyond that there is a handful of state House primaries, particularly in Philadelphia on the Democratic side, that should be looked at.

The longest-serving member of the state House, Rep. Mark Cohen, is facing a tough challenge. Another state House primary in the city is the race between incumbent Brian Sims, the first openly gay member of the legislature ever elected, and Ben Waxman, a staffer for State Sen. Vincent Hughes. Waxman has racked up a substantial number of endorsements and has a well-funded effort. Again, another great challenge to another incumbent.

Alan Novak and T.J. Rooney are principals of RooneyNovak Group Bipartisan Solutions and appear together regularly to discuss political issues and debate policy. Contact them at alan@rooneynovak.com and tjrooney@rooneynovak.com.

Editor's Note: This piece first appeared in Philly.com and in the Sunday Currents section of The Philadelphia Inquirer

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