USA Election Watch

May 18, 2021

4 min read

5/18/21 Special Election Previews

Pennsylvania Senate District 22 (Democratic Defense)

Candidates: Marty Flynn (D), Chris Chermak (R), Marlene Sebastianelli (G), Nathan Covington (L)

Overview: We start with the most competitive election today, the first of four specials in the Keystone State. This Scranton-based district, which opened up after incumbent Democrat John Blake resigned to take a Congressional staff job, has trended right since the Obama presidency, although Scranton-raised Joe Biden’s 54–45 win was an improvement over Hillary Clinton’s 50–47 margin. With uncertain turnout in special elections being a factor, this should be a highly competitive race. The Democratic nominee is State Representative Marty Flynn, who represents a district which stretches from downtown Scranton to Northeastern suburbs and rural areas. Flynn’s House district is one of the more Democratic parts of the Senate district, and turning out that base will be crucial to a Democratic victory. Meanwhile, Republicans have their own strong nominee in Lackawanna County Commissioner Chris Chermak. The two have been embroiled in a pretty intense contest, with both running ads attacking each other’s character. However, a couple recent events give Flynn a slight advantage. First, Chermak did not show up to a scheduled debate. Then, a few days later, Biden himself endorsed Flynn, who could benefit from a nationalized race in a district Biden won by nearly 9 points. That being said, it will ultimately be a question of turnout and Chermak can easily win. Two further candidate, a Green and a Libertarian, could further complicate things, although their influence will probably even out.

Rating and Prediction: Tilt D. Marty Flynn wins by 4 points.

Pennsylvania Senate District 48 (Republican Defense)

Candidates: Calvin Clements (D), Chris Gebhard (R), Ed Krebs (Bring People Together), Timothy McMaster (L)

Overview: We now move to just east of Harrisburg, in a district where Trump won 59–39 in 2020, a slight underperfomance from his 61–35 victory in 2016. This seat was opened up after Republican David Arnold passed away this January and 4 candidates are vying to fill it. The Republican nominee, businessman Chris Gebhard, will undoubtedly be the favorite to win the special election given the seat’s red lean. On the Democratic side, Calvin Clements is the nominee. Clements ran for State House in 2020 and slightly underperformed Biden in that district, so it is unlikely he will have any sort of surprise overperfomance. The once chance for Clements is the presence of 2 other candidates in the race, especially Ed Krebs, a former D-turned-R State Representative who is running as an Independent under the label “Bring People Together.” Krebs’s campaign is based on moderate conservatism, a message which seems unlikely to work in the era of polarization (see next write-up), but he, along with Libertarian Tim McMaster, could take votes from Gebhard. However, this appears very unlikely to occur.

Rating and Prediction: Safe R. Chris Gebhard wins by 20 points.

Pennsylvania House of Representatives District 59 (Republican Defense)

Candidates: Mariah Fisher (D) Leslie Baum Rossi (R), Robb Luther (L)

Overview: Next, we head to rural Southeast Pennsylvania, for a special election in a deep red seat which backed Donald Trump 70–29 in 2020. The seat was vacated by Republican Mike Reese, who passed away in January. The pro-Trump nature of this seat is best exemplified by the Republican nominee, businesswoman Leslie Baum Rossi, who is known in the community for her “Trump House” complete with a 12 foot replica of Trump outside in the yard. Something like this might have been considered very weird a few years ago, but one could argue this type of display is more in line with the Republican base here than ever. The Democratic nominee is Mariah Fisher, a Ligonier Borough Councilwoman who served as a Republican until changing her registration after the events of January 6. While this could conceivably attract crossover voters, it is hard to see this happening currently in a polarized country.

Rating and Prediction: Safe R. Leslie Baum Rossi wins by 35 points.

Pennsylvania House of Representatives District 60 (Republican Defense)

Candidates: Frank Prazenica (D), Abby Major (R), Andrew Hreha (L)

Overview: We now move slightly Northwest to the 60th District, where the story is pretty similar minus the Trump House bit. Donald Trump won this exurban/rural district, which opened up when Republican Jeff Pyle resigned in March due to health issues, by a massive 73–25 margin. As a result, this special election should not be expected to be competitive at all. Abby Major, Pyle’s Chief of Staff, is the Republican nominee (no she does not own a 12 foot monument to the former President), and should be a heavy favorite to prevail over Freeport School Board member Frank Prazenica, a first time candidate for legislative office.

Rating and Prediction: Safe R. Abby Major wins by 45 points.

California Assembly District 54 (Democratic Defense)

Candidates: Isaac Bryan (D), Dallas Denise Fowler (D), Heather Hutt (D), Samuel Morales (D), Bernard Senter (I), Cheryl Turner (D)

Overview: We wrap up in Los Angeles, where 6 candidates are vying to replace Sydney Kamlager, who was elected to the State Senate in an earlier special election. This district was won 84–14 by Joe Biden, so unsurprisingly, all the candidates are left-leaning. UCLA administrator and criminal justice reform advocate Isaac Bryan is the slight favorite, carrying the endorsement of Kamlager. However former Kamala Harris staffer Heather Hutt is giving Bryan a very strong challenge and will likely force the race into a runoff between the two, although political consultant Dallas Fowler is also running strong. Cheryl Turner has past campaign experience from the other special election earlier this year, but seems unlikely to garner too much support this time around given her single digit showing last time. Samuel Morales and Bernard Senter will also likely pick up a few votes but are unlikely to make the runoff.

Prediction: Isaac Bryan and Heather Hutt advance to a runoff with 35% and 30% respectively.