Winning in Pennsylvania in 2020

One of the top Democratic pickup opportunities this year is in Pennsylvania. Much like in Virginia, Pennsylvania is a state where Democrats can take back power in both chambers and create a progressive majority that will raise the minimum wage, enact gun safety reforms, ensure equality for LGBTQ individuals, and make progress on criminal justice reform.

In the State House, Democrats have a strong path to the majority by pressing forward in the college-educated suburbs where Democrats are growing. The State Senate will be a tougher challenge, but there’s a path to getting to at least a tie this year, where the current Democratic Lieutenant Governor would cast the tie-breaking vote. In this piece, we focus on the State Senate landscape. We’ll do a deep dive on the State House landscape in a subsequent piece.

Part 1: The Senate

Democrats need to win five seats to flip the Senate. The defection of an incumbent Democratic senator to caucus with Republicans has put a damper on Democrats’ ability to win an outright majority in the chamber this year. Democrats are also defending SD 37, a Republican-leaning district that Pam Iovino (an EveryDistrict-endorsed candidate) won in a special election in 2019. While three seats are highly winnable, Democrats will need to venture into more challenging territory to get to the fourth seat for a tie. The map and table below show the best opportunities.

EveryDistrict has endorsed four challengers and Pam Iovino’s reelection bid. You can read about our endorsed candidates here.  

In this map, districts in yellow are those where EveryDistrict has endorsed challengers running to flip districts from red to blue. The light blue district is Pam Iovino’s GOP-leaning seat that Democrats need to hold.

Senate Pickup Opportunities

Senate DistrictLDI ScoreEveryDistrict RatingGeography
49D+13Lean DemocraticErie Area
9D+9Lean DemocraticPhiladelphia Suburbs
15R+0Lean RepublicanHarrisburg Area
13R+7Favor RepublicanLancaster Area

The Money

A strong top of the ticket is not enough to win competitive state legislative races. The Democratic candidates in these races need to be able raise a competitive amount of money to raise their name recognition and get their message out to voters. Across the state legislative landscape, Pennsylvania State Senate races have some of the most expensive costs per race: candidates need to raise at least $1 million (and likely much more) to be competitive.

In the four flip opportunities, all four Democratic candidates are running against incumbents who have had not two but four years to fundraise, given that the last time these districts were on the ballot was 2016. Also, all four districts saw competitive Democratic primaries, forcing our Democratic candidates to spend money early.

The bad news is that right now, while Republicans have almost $1 million in the bank across these four races, Democrats only have $300,000. The good news is that this isn’t an insurmountable amount to overcome. You can make a difference by donating to our Pennsylvania slate, where 100% of your donation will go directly to our candidates:

Part 2: Keys to Success in Pennsylvania

What will it take to overcome Republican dominance in the Keystone State? Republicans have controlled the legislature nearly continuously since the 1994 Republican Revolution, with only a short break between 2007 and 2011 where Democrats controlled the State House only. The winds of change and Biden’s strong polling in the state could make this state the biggest pickup of the 2020 cycle, if Democrats do the following:

1. Embrace the Opportunity and Invest Broadly

In too many states—including in Pennsylvania in 2018—Democrats have failed to embrace a strategy that could get them to a majority. Beaten down from years of Republican control, Democrats in and outside these states often think that they are unwinnable. Our data shows the opposite: Democrats can and should win in Pennsylvania in 2020. And if we aren’t winning here, then we aren’t winning anywhere. Democrats need to make sure enough districts have enough resources to effectively compete.

2. Get All Stakeholders Involved

With Senator Casey and Governor Wolf’s big wins in 2018, the Democratic brand bounced back in Pennsylvania after the disaster of 2016. However, these leading Democrats in the state need to play a critical role in helping voters understand the benefits of a Democratic legislature. “Downballot drop-off” means that many Democratic voters never make it to vote for their state senator or state representative. More well-known politicians helping to raise the profile of these races can be extremely helpful.

3. Ride the Suburban Wave

Democrats should be buoyed by their opportunity to surprise Republicans in a number of Republican-leaning seats. Why is there such a meaningful chance to do that in Pennsylvania in 2020? College-educated suburbanites. In the House alone, there are eight GOP-leaning seats where over 50% of the likely voters are college-educated whites. Just as Democrats swept in those districts in the US House wave of 2018, they can sneak into those seats to build a strong majority in Pennsylvania in 2020.

4. Hold the Line on Shifting Districts

More than many other purple states this year, Pennsylvania does have a number of Democratic-held seats that have been trending Republican: one in the Senate and six in the House. Many of these districts have large numbers of non-college white voters. While some non-college voters, particularly upper income voters, have become very much locked into voting for the GOP, there are paths for Democrats to rebuild. Actual “working-class” non-college voters are receptive to the Democratic economic message. Both Catholics and Evangelicals are increasingly dismayed by how the GOP is failing to manage the current health crisis. Democrats need to proactively engage these populations. It will help us retain our critical seats in the state and win everywhere.

With these keys in mind, Democrats can have a big night in Pennsylvania. We’ve already endorsed nine candidates, with additional House endorsements to be announced this month. To support the candidates who will make change happen in Pennsylvania this year, donate here: