Pennsylvania 7: How Do You Rate a Race for a Seat that Doesn’t Exist?

January 26, 2018 · 11:50 AM EST

The deep, dark secret of political handicapping is that there isn’t a singular equation that can project the winner of each congressional race. It is helpful to know who is running and where they are running. But thanks to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court throwing out the congressional map and GOP Rep. Patrick Meehan’s retirement, we barely know anything about this year’s race in the 7th District. 

On Thursday evening, Meehan finally announced his decision not to seek a fifth term after allegations of sexual misconduct with a former staffer and a futile attempt to explain away his conduct. 

Normally, this is where I would relate the recent presidential results of his 7th District (Hillary Clinton carried it narrowly in 2016 after Mitt Romney carried it narrowly in 2012, if you have to know), but those numbers aren’t particularly relevant considering the race is likely to take place under a new congressional map. 

Meehan’s suburban Philadelphia district is so gerrymandered that it seems likely to change dramatically to conform to the court’s order to maintain compactness. And Democratic performance should improve with a redraw. 

Holding the current 7th without Meehan in this political environment was going to be difficult for the GOP. Now that he’s not running, it could free up Keystone State Republicans to make the 7th more Democratic (because they don’t have to worry about endangering an incumbent) in order to shore up GOP Reps. Ryan Costello and Brian Fitzpatrick in the 6th and 8th districts. 

Neither Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf nor the state supreme court are likely to approve a new map that favors GOP candidates in three southeast Pennsylvania districts. And it’s tough to evaluate the candidates considering those fields won’t be finalized until a new map is in place. 

One thing we know for sure is that the Lean Republican rating doesn’t make sense anymore. This is the type of area where we could see a suburban surge by Democratic voters, and redrawing the map will likely imperil at least one House seat outside of Philadelphia. We’re changing our rating to Tilt Democratic.

We’ll release new ratings for Pennsylvania (or any other state) after a new map is finalized and candidates are filing. Because, once again, handicapping a race depends on who is running and where it is taking place.