Corbett, Rothfus already targeted for '14

Published by Tim McNulty on .

The 2012 election cycle was so five weeks ago. There are two fresh looks at 2014 politics out today that say Republicans Gov. Tom Corbett and (closer to Pittsburgh) congressman-elect Keith Rothfus will be both be vulnerable the next time around. Rothfus has essentially been running nonstop since 2010 when he first ran against Jason Altmire into his successful battle this fall against Mark Critz -- good thing he's a marathoner.

There will be 38 gubernatorial races on the ballot in two years and Governing magazine says Corbett will be among the 10 incumbents in the biggest trouble. Their take:

Control of the Pennsylvania governorship has shifted between the two parties like clockwork every eight years since World War II, and no Keystone State governor has lost reelection since 1970, when the state's governors were first allowed to run for a second term. If Corbett were to lose in 2014, it would break both of these ironclad patterns -- but his chances of losing currently seem higher than they were for recent incumbent governors. Corbett is not considered an especially good salesman for his agenda, which tends toward small government. He has also irked educators more than his Republican predecessors have, and his party controls the Legislature, reinforcing a policy agenda that's ideologically to the right of many voters in this blue-leaning state. Corbett, already saddled by the recession and budget challenges, will also need to defend his handling of the Penn State child sex abuse scandal while he was attorney general, a line of inquiry that will be pushed by an ambitious, newly elected Democratic AG, Kathleen Kane. For the moment, Corbett's ratings are up modestly, due to his response to Hurricane Sandy -- 40 percent approval, 38 percent disapproval in a November Quinnipiac poll, compared to 28 percent approval in an August Franklin & Marshall poll. But the bump may not be enough to scare off credible Democratic challengers. Former state environmental protection Secretary John Hanger became the first to officially join the race, but other potential candidates have higher name recognition, including state Treasurer Rob McCord and former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who narrowly lost a Senate race to Republican Pat Toomey in 2010. U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz would be a strong contender and has been making some moves that suggest she's thinking about it; another possibility is Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro. Meanwhile, Corbett could be vulnerable to a primary challenge. Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce Castor is publicly mulling a bid, and a self-funding candidate to Corbett's right -- such as Tom Smith, who just lost a U.S. Senate race to incumbent Democrat Bob Casey Jr. -- could pose problems for the incumbent as well.

Over at Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball, they say Rothfus and PA-8 GOP incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick will have the two Pa seats most contested by Democrats. They group Pa in with rust belt states including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin:

Democrats will take swings at several districts in these states in 2014. The most plausible targets are Keith Rothfusprobably Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick and Rep.-elect Keith Rothfus (both R-PA); Rep.-elect David Joyce and Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH); Rep.-elect Kerry Bentivolio, Reps. Justin Amash and Dan Benishek (R-MI); and Reps. Sean Duffy and Reid Ribble (R-WI). But Democrats targeted most of these seats to at least a certain extent in 2012 and were unsuccessful. Benishek, who barely won his Michigan Upper Peninsula-centered seat, is probably the most endangered Republican mentioned here. Joyce, who replaced the retiring Steve LaTourette in a moderate Northeast Ohio district, will presumably face a real opponent in 2014 (LaTourette announced his retirement too late for Democrats to field a competitive challenger). Also, Bentivolio occupies a pretty reliably Republican district (it was held by Republican Rep. Thad McCotter before McCotter messed up his petitions to run for reelection), but he is disliked even by his own party and might not survive his next primary (or general) contest.

The flip side of the Republicans' solidification of their existing seats in these four states is that they essentially have no seats to target as potential gains. An inability to really pick up seats in these four important, swingy states could effectively limit the number of seats Republicans could gain nationally even in a wave year. Then again, given that they already hold a majority bigger than any of those they held during their run of House control from 1995 and 2007, Republicans don't have a ton of room to grow their caucus.

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