Pennsylvania 12 special election: Is Marino’s seat at risk?

by Nathan L. Gonzales January 17, 2019 · 9:08 PM EST

North Carolina’s 9th District was the clear front-runner to host the first congressional election of 2019 until Republican Tom Marino announced his resignation from Pennsylvania’s 12th District. The seat has a significant GOP lean to it, but Republicans seem to find new ways to make special elections closer and more competitive than they should be.

The four-term congressman said Thursday he would be leaving Jan. 23 for a job in the private sector. Marino was re-elected last November with 66 percent and just began his fifth term. 

There was some initial speculation that this was bad sign for Republicans because it could be the beginning of a GOP exodus. But it also might not be a sign of anything.

Missouri GOP Rep. Jo Ann Emerson resigned from Congress on Jan. 22, 2013, for a job in the private sector and Republicans went on to gain 13 seats in the midterms the following year. And we knew Marino wasn’t long for his current job. In 2017, President Donald Trump tried to appoint him as the nation’s drug czar. The congressman eventually withdrew his name after reports that he sponsored a bill that hampered efforts to combat the opioid crisis. It’s not a surprise he found another way off the Hill.

The 12th District, which includes parts of central and northeast Pennsylvania and was redrawn before the 2018 elections, voted for Trump 66 percent to 30 percent, according to calculations by Daily Kos Elections. It also supported Mitt Romney 62-37 percent in 2012 and John McCain 57-42 percent in 2008. A Democratic victory in the 12th would probably be as likely as Doug Jones’ win in Alabama.

Even if Democrats don’t win in Pennsylvania, it doesn’t mean Republicans won’t sweat a little. Democratic candidates in the congressional special elections over the last two years outperformed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 margins by an average of 13 points. If that holds, the GOP nominee would still win by more than 20 points.

But until we know who is running, when the election will be held, and what the political environment looks like, it will be hard to handicap the race properly.

As explained by Roll Call, Marino’s resignation will prompt a special election, in which each party’s nominee will be selected by local party leaders at a nominating conference. Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf must issue a writ of election within 10 days of Marino stepping down. The special election must take place no fewer than 60 days after Wolf issues the proclamation.

Even though Republicans have an obvious advantage to holding the seat, the last two years have shown that nothing comes easy for the GOP, and this race is likely to get more interesting rather than less as it progresses.