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Can Pennsylvania Democrats Pick Up Any US House Seats with Corbett Loss?

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If Pennsylvania Democrats win the governor's mansion without netting two U.S. House seats, the party will set a record for shortest gubernatorial coattails in congressional races in state history

tomcorbett10.jpgThe reelection prospects of embattled Republican Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett have been journalistic catnip over the last year, with storylines ranging from failed whispers within the GOP to persuade the governor to retire, to speculation he could be knocked out in a Republican primary, to the very long line of Democratic contenders itching to get a chance at facing the nation's most vulnerable GOP governor in the general election.

But Pennsylvania Democrats are facing their own struggles - including their attempt to win back a few of the seven U.S. House seats lost between the 2008 and 2012 cycles when the party's delegation decreased from 12 members to just five.

(Smart Politics previously reported on how redistricting has produced a historically undersized Democratic U.S. House delegation in the 113th Congress vis-à-vis the state's presidential vote).

At the moment, however, most of the 13 GOP congressional districts seem safe, with Mike Fitzpatrick's 8th CD seat perhaps the most likely to flip.

That means Democrats in Washington are counting on a very strong performance by their gubernatorial nominee at the top of the ticket (with U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz the early favorite) to give some of the party's down the ballot U.S. House hopefuls a chance at victory.

For, as it stands now, a Democratic gubernatorial pick-up in 2014 without the party netting at least two congressional seats would make electoral history in the Keystone State.

A Smart Politics review of Pennsylvania election data finds that the lowest percentage of U.S. House seats elected alongside the party of the state's winning gubernatorial candidate is 36 percent, set in 1890.

Democrats won the governor's mansion that cycle with Robert Pattison but carried just 10 of 28 congressional seats.

Since the birth of the modern two-party system in 1828, there have been 42 gubernatorial elections conducted in Pennsylvania that coincided with elections to the U.S. House.

Overall, 765 of the 1,177 congressional seats on the ballot in such cycles during this 185-year span were carried by the winning gubernatorial candidate, or an average of 65 percent.

In 32 of these cycles, the party of the victorious gubernatorial candidate carried at least half of the congressional seats - peaking at over 80 percent nine times:

· 1872 (Republicans): 82 percent, 22 of 27 seats (Governor John Hartranft)
· 1894 (Republicans): 93 percent, 28 of 30 seats (Daniel Hastings)
· 1902 (Republicans): 88 percent, 28 of 32 seats (Samuel Pennypacker)
· 1914 (Republicans): 83 percent, 30 of 36 seats (Martin Brumbaugh)
· 1918 (Republicans): 81 percent, 29 of 36 seats (William Sprout)
· 1922 (Republicans): 83 percent, 30 of 36 seats (Gifford Pinchot)
· 1926 (Republicans): 94 percent, 34 of 36 seats (John Fisher)
· 1930 (Republicans): 92 percent, 33 of 36 seats (Giffort Pinchot)
· 1946 (Republicans): 85 percent, 28 of 33 seats (Jim Duff)

Over the last 15 cycles since 1954, the only time a gubernatorial candidate has been elected along with at least 60 percent of his party's U.S. House seats was in 2010 when Corbett and 12 of 19 Republican U.S. House nominees were victorious (63 percent).

In 10 cycles during the two-party era, less than half of the state's congressional seats - but no less than 36 percent - came from the party of the elected governor, with seven of these cycles taking place during the last 50 years:

· 1882 (Democrats): 43 percent, 12 of 28 seats (Governor Robert Pattison)
· 1890 (Democrats): 36 percent, 10 of 28 seats (Robert Pattison)
· 1954 (Democrats): 47 percent, 14 of 30 seats (George Leader)
· 1966 (Republicans): 48 percent, 13 of 27 seats (Raymond Shafer)
· 1978 (Republicans): 40 percent, 10 of 25 seats (Dick Thornburgh)
· 1982 (Republicans): 44 percent, 10 of 23 seats (Dick Thornburgh)
· 1990 (Democrats): 48 percent, 11 of 23 seats (Bob Casey)
· 1994 (Republicans): 48 percent, 10 of 21 seats (Tom Ridge)
· 1998 (Republicans): 48 percent, 10 of 21 seats (Tom Ridge)
· 2002 (Democrats): 37 percent, 7 of 19 seats (Ed Rendell)

Democrats currently hold 28 percent of Pennsylvania's 18 congressional seats (five of 18).

As such, if the Democratic Party does indeed take back the governor's mansion in 2014, it will have to net two U.S. House seats to avoid setting the record for the weakest gubernatorial coattails in congressional races in Keystone State history.

In order to reach the historical statewide average of 65 percent, Democrats would have the unfathomable task of netting seven seats.

Pennsylvania U.S. House Seats Carried by Party of Winning Gubernatorial Candidate, 1832-2010

Cycle
Winning candidate
Party
US House seats
Total Seats
% Seats
1832
George Wolf
Democrat
14
28
50.0
1838
David Porter
Democrat
17
28
60.7
1844
Francis Shunk
Democrat
12
24
50.0
1848
William Johnston
Whig
13
24
54.2
1854
James Pollock
Whig
16*
24
66.7
1860
Andrew Curtin
Republican
19
25
76.0
1866
John Geary
Republican
18
24
75.0
1872
John Hartranft
Republican
22
27
81.5
1878
Henry Hoyt
Republican
17
27
63.0
1882
Robert Pattison
Democrat
12
28
42.9
1886
James Beaver
Republican
20
28
71.4
1890
Robert Pattison
Democrat
10
28
35.7
1894
Daniel Hastings
Republican
28
30
93.3
1898
William Stone
Republican
20
30
66.7
1902
Samuel Pennypacker
Republican
28
32
87.5
1906
Edwin Stuart
Republican
25
32
78.1
1910
J.K. Tener
Republican
23
32
71.9
1914
Martin Brumbaugh
Republican
30
36
83.3
1918
William Sprout
Republican
29
36
80.6
1922
Gifford Pinchot
Republican
30
36
83.3
1926
John Fisher
Republican
34
36
94.4
1930
Gifford Pinchot
Republican
33
36
91.7
1934
George Earle
Democrat
23
34
67.6
1938
Arthur James
Republican
19
34
55.9
1942
Edward Martin
Republican
19
33
57.6
1946
Jim Duff
Republican
28
33
84.8
1950
John Fine
Republican
20
33
60.6
1954
George Leader
Democrat
14
30
46.7
1958
David Lawrence
Democrat
16
30
53.3
1962
William Scranton
Republican
14
27
51.9
1966
Raymond Shafer
Republican
13
27
48.1
1970
Milton Shapp
Democrat
14
27
51.9
1974
Milton Shapp
Democrat
14
25
56.0
1978
Dick Thornburgh
Republican
15
25
40.0
1982
Dick Thornburgh
Republican
13
23
43.5
1986
Bob Casey, Sr.
Democrat
12
23
52.2
1990
Bob Casey, Sr.
Democrat
11
23
47.8
1994
Tom Ridge
Republican
10
21
47.6
1998
Tom Ridge
Republican
10
21
47.6
2002
Ed Rendell
Democrat
7
19
36.8
2006
Ed Rendell
Democrat
11
19
57.9
2010
Tom Corbett
Republican
12
19
63.2
* Includes coalition of Opposition, Whig, and Republican U.S. Representatives. Table compiled by Smart Politics.

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