WASHINGTON — With just over 40 days until Election Day, candidates and campaigns are in full swing ahead of a Nov. XX election crackling with political ????.

Voters in both parties are expressing high levels of interest in the fall races, and large portions of both see their votes as a statement on President Trump.

Here we update our August rankings of the most competitive contests in the Philadelphia region and a little beyond based on conversations with more than 20 independent analysts, pollsters, and officials in both parties, along with reviews of polls and forecasting sites, and suggest what to look for as the races unfold further.

We've rated them from one to five based on a combination of importance and competitiveness. This is a snapshot at the start of August, likely to shift as the campaigns unfold and national events intervene.

The Philadelphia region is likely to play a significant role in deciding control of the U.S. House.

 After Ohio's special election Tuesday, the next time Democrats and Republicans face off directly is Election Day — when the road to control of the U.S. House runs through the Philadelphia region.

Democrats, needing to add 23 seats to gain a House majority, are targeting six Republican-held districts in southeast Pennsylvania and South Jersey, and another five or so could come into play under their dream scenario. The big races remain as hot as ever, and some lower tier contests are coming into sharper focus.

Both Pennsylvania and New Jersey also host Senate races as the GOP tries to hold or expand its 51-49 advantage.

Top Tier

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PA1: Most years, Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick would be a safe bet for reelection in this evenly-balanced district where his brother served XXX terms.

His Democratic challenger, Scott Wallace, has lots of money to spend but has also taken a lot of flak over his donations to non-profit organizations, which Republicans have used to paint him as too liberal for the moderate district.

But with Democrats sensing energy on their side, particularly in suburban areas, both parties agree this race is likely to be a tight one, and the GOP is showing how seriously they take the threat, launching a recent TV ad attempting to tie Wallace to convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, using the thin links based on Wallace's charitable foundation giving to a news organization that, among its many other projects, XXXX Abu-Jamal.

That's a sign of someone who has a fight on his hands.
What to watch: Can Wallace, a multi-millionaire, to spend enough to introduce himself to voters and overcome the GOP attempts to make him an unpalatable option?

This Bucks County-based race could be the tightest in Pennsylvania, and is a place where the GOP is hoping to draw a line in suburban Philadelphia. (If the midterms are a war, as one Republican recently said, PA1 is the Alamo — though perhaps on reflection he might choose a less ominous metaphor).

Democrat Scott Wallace won a competitive primary, but some analysts and Democrats are wondering if they picked the right candidate. The wealthy grandson of a former vice president has absorbed Republican attacks over his charitable foundation donations as the GOP tries to define him as an outsider before he can introduce himself. The Republican, U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, has created an independent brand focused on local issues — which might help him hang onto the kind of suburban moderate voters who have fled the GOP elsewhere. Dems are banking on two waves helping Wallace: one from the candidate's own money, and one from liberal voters eager to make a statement about President Trump.
Rating: 5 Stars (Unchanged)

PA7: For weeks Republicans have been privately raising alarms about this race, worried that without an incumbent in a closely balanced district, they won't be able to withstand the political winds behind Democrats.

Then came a Monmouth University poll showing a close race, and that neither candidate is very well known, suggesting an opening if either Democrat Susan Wild or Republican Marty Nothstein can grab voters' attention. The incumbent, Republican Charlie Dent, has retired, and neither of his potential replacements have the same name ID.

Unlike most Democratic pick-up opportunities, which mostly focus on well-educated suburbs, this district has a concentration of Democratic voters in a city, Allentown. Some Democrats have raised concerns that the Hispanic population there might not be as motivated to vote as they would expect, potentially keeping this race in play.
What to watch: Can either candidate make a more firm impression and establish some momentum.

The Lehigh Valley district hosts another of the toughest races in the state. It's a battleground where Hillary Clinton won by just one percentage point in 2016.

Susan Wild won a competitive Democratic primary and is facing Marty Nothstein, who has vowed to be a pragmatic Republican in the mold of the region's longtime congressman, Charlie Dent, who retired in May as one of Washington's last moderates.

She is a community activist and the first woman solicitor for Allentown. Nothstein is an Olympic cycling champion and Lehigh County commissioner.

Wild's big fund-raising edge and a national atmosphere that seems to favor Democrats has analysts tilting their predictions ever-so-slightly her way.
Rating: 5 Stars (Unchanged)

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NJ3: This is likely to be the toughest race in New Jersey, one where an August poll found a virtual tie between U.S. Rep. Tom MacArthur, a Republican, and Democratic challenger Andy Kim.

Republicans have gone on the attack on Kim's honesty, accusing him of inflating his work as a former White House national security adviser, while Democrats have reminded voters of MacArthur's key role in the GOP's proposed health care overhaul, warning that his plan would have rolled back protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.

South Jersey's Tom MacArthur is the one Republican in this area who has embraced Trump. He personally authored key pieces of the bill to roll back the Affordable Care Act and was the only New Jerseyan from either party to vote for the GOP's signature tax cuts, which capped the popular deduction for state and local taxes.

MacArthur has also tried to emphasize his independence and has criticized Trump at times, but those two big votes loom large — for both Democratic activists in Burlington County and in more conservative Ocean County, which supported Trump in 2016.

Democrat Andy Kim just had a big fund-raising quarter, but MacArthur has enough personal wealth to match any spending in one of the most expensive districts in the country, one that includes both the Philadelphia and New York media markets. Of all the districts in the Philadelphia suburbs, Trump performed strongest here, winning it by six.
Rating: 5 stars (Unchanged)
What to watch: MacArthur, by now, is experienced in tough races. How does Kim, a first-time candidate, handle the day-to-day challenges of campaigning, especially as Republicans look for any slip they can use to disqualify him.

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PA17: Republicans are increasingly worried about U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus, who is running behind fellow Congressman Conor Lamb.

Lamb, the Democrat, has a major advantage in name ID and momentum, thanks to his nationally watched special-election victory in March, and the district is much more balanced than Rothfus' old, strongly conservative, turf, thanks for a new congressional map drawn by the state Supreme Court.

A Politico WHEN said that if Republicans have to start conserving resources, Rothfus could be one of the first incumbents to lose national support.

Rothfus had a safely Republican seat until Pennsylvania's new congressional maps came out. Now, it's more evenly balanced, including many suburban Democrats, and about 44 percent of the district's electorate is new. One early poll showed Lamb with a substantial lead, but Republicans say not to count out Rothfus.
Rating: 3 stars (Down from 4)
What to watch: National groups aligned with the GOP have continued spending here. Can Rothfus show enough momentum to keep the support coming?


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PA Senate: Don't ask us about this race: ask Mitch McConnell.

In WHEN the Republican Senate leader and consummate tactician listed off the key races that will decide control of the Senate — and he did not include Pennsylvania.

Polls suggest that Democratic Sen. Bob Casey has a strong lead over Republican U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, and neither national party seems to see much of a race. Neither one is bothering to spend much in this contest.

Still, President Trump and former President Barack Obama have both visited PA for this race, so it's not totally off the radar.

Trump, as ever, presents a wild card. He likes Barletta, who was an early endorser, and perhaps even more importantly from the White House perspective Trump cherishes his Keystone State win in 2016 and can ill-afford to slip in a place he won by XXX votes. So it wouldn't be shocking if he decided to make the short trip from D.C. for more rallies, which means the race remains one to keep an eye on.

After a barnburner of a Senate race last year, this year's Senate race in Pennsylvania has been much quieter. The Republican candidate, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, has struggled to raise money or make many inroads against Democratic incumbent Bob Casey — but he got some powerful help the past few weeks, in the form of a fund-raiser with Vice President Pence and a rally with President Trump.

Many Republicans in Washington and Pennsylvania are down on this race, in part because the Senate map includes better targets in less expensive, more conservative states, but with the president's interest in Pennsylvania and personal affinity for Barletta, it's too early to completely discount the contest.
Rating: 2 stars (Down from 2.5)

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NJ Senate: For months allies of Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez have argued that once they unleashed the full force of their campaign, this race would start looking better for the wounded incumbent.

Well, it's late September and polls are still showing an unusually close contest in a state that hasn't elected a Republican to the Senate since 1972.

Republican challenger Bob Hugin, a former pharma CEO, is pouring money onto the airwaves to remind voters of the corruption charges Menendez faced. His trial ended with a hung jury earlier this year, but he was severely admonished by his Senate colleagues.

Menendez's team plans to hit back by accusing Hugin of jacking up drug prices and tying him to Trump. Democrats are banking on voters in a blue state ultimately deciding that whatever reservations they have about Menendez, they can't hand the GOP a crucial Senate seat.

nder normal circumstances this race wouldn't even be on the radar — but is now worth watching, worryingly for Democrats.

Republicans haven't won a Senate election in New Jersey since 1972, and Trump is deeply unpopular in the blue state, but the Democratic incumbent, Bob Menendez, just survived a federal trial on corruption charges, was "severely admonished" by the Senate, and performed poorly against a virtual unknown in the Democratic primary. His GOP challenger, former pharma executive Bob Hugin, is spending heavily from his own pocket to remind voters about it.

Given the national environment, it's a good year to run as a wounded Democrat in a blue state, but if national Democrats have to spend money and resources in one of their strongholds, that could be costly.

They are playing defense in many other races in tougher states across the country.
Rating: 3.5 stars (Up from 2.5)
What to watch: New Jersey voters are notorious for deciding late. As they tune in, does Menendez's support ramp up? Or are Democrats in for a fight to the finish in what should be a stronghold?

Likely Flips

These races appear unlikely to be competitive, but are still significant in the national picture, because Democrats are heavily favored to capture GOP-held seats in all three contests.

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PA5: Given the change in the district lines, this might be the easiest pick-up opportunity Democrats have in the entire country. In a now-solidly Democratic district, Mary Gay Scanlon is heavily favored here over Republican Pearl Kim, who the local GOP thinks has a bright future, but not much chance in this contest.

The Delaware County-based district was likely to fall to Democrats after the Republican incumbent, Pat Meehan, resigned amid a sexual-harassment scandal. It became a slam dunk once the new congressional maps came out: Hillary Clinton won nearly 63 percent of the vote here. Republicans see good things in the future for their nominee, Pearl Kim, but privately they acknowledge she has almost no chance against Democrat Mary Gay Scanlon.
Rating: ½ star (No change)

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PA6: Republicans have all-but given up on holding this seat, currently held by Republican Ryan Costello, who is retiring. He might have had a barnburner of a race against Democrat Chrissy Houlahan, but she is strongly favored over Costello's replacement on the ballot, Greg McCauley.

A potentially top-tier race centered on Chester County fizzled when the new map shifted the district left and the incumbent Republican, Ryan Costello, dropped his reelection bid. Republicans might have a shot here in another year, but voters in Chester County have swung hard against President Trump — nowhere in Pennsylvania moved as far from Mitt Romney to Clinton in 2016 — and Democrats have a promising candidate in Chrissy Houlahan. She's up against attorney Greg McCauley. Both parties concede this race is all but over before it gets started.
Rating: ½ star (No change)

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NJ2: Democrats have dreamed of winning this South Jersey seat for years, and have their chance now that the Republican incumbent, U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, decided to retire.

Democratic state Sen. Jeff Van Drew has a long history of winning races in the district, and the national GOP has withdrawn its support for the Republican candidate, Seth Grossman, over racially charged comments.

National Republicans pulled support from the GOP candidate here, lawyer Seth Grossman, after revelations of numerous videos and social media posts featuring charged racial comments, including one in which he called diversity "crap." Democrat Jeff Van Drew is a state senator who has long-standing crossover appeal in the most conservative portion of the district. If Democrats don't win this seat, it probably means their Election Day is a disaster.
Rating: 0 stars (No change).

Sleeper Races

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PA10: This could be one place to look on election night to see if a true Democratic tide has emerged. Republican incumbent Scott Perry has never had a close race, but his district is more politically balanced — and much more moderate — under the new maps. His staunchly conservative voting record is probably to the right of the district as a whole, and he's facing a challenge from George Scott, a retired Army lieutenant-colonel who is now a pastor.

Perry is still favored, but national conservative groups have begun spending to aid him, a sign that they are taking the threat seriously.

Just outside Harrisburg, Republican Scott Perry has never had a close race or had to raise serious money. But after redistricting, he now has a more evenly balanced district (Trump won it by 9 points, compared to 20+ in his old seat). Perry is being challenged by a George Scott, a retired Army lieutenant-colonel who is now a pastor and ran an eye-catching campaign ad that showed him disassembling and burning a rifle. Perry is favored, but if the Democratic tide rises, this is one place where a once-safe Republican could be washed away.
Rating: 3 stars (Up from 2)

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PA16: Democrats will need help from a big wave to win here, too. The party's national campaign arm has highlighted the race but Republican Mike Kelly is still strongly favored.
Another district where Democrats are hoping for help from a big wave. It's a long shot — Trump won by 20 percentage points in the district that borders Ohio — and the incumbent, Mike Kelly, is said to be rich enough to put his own money into the race. But national Democrats have tried to highlight the district, putting it on its list of top-tier races. Another one where Democrats are trying to put themselves in position to benefit if a major wave shapes up.
Rating: 1 star

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PA8: Republicans see a district that swung to Trump in 2016 and argue that the Democratic Congressman, Matt Carthwright, might be vulnerable. Democrats see an incumbent who survived the political shock last year, and is now running in a much better atmosphere for his party.

If the GOP hopes to gain any ground, this white, working-class district will be one place they look.

If Democrats stumble it might be here, in Northeastern Pennsylvania, where Matt Cartwright represents a district that Trump won by 10 percentage points. It would be ironic for Dems to make huge gains in Pennsylvania only to lose a seat.

Still, Cartwright survived Trump's 2016 win and the atmosphere should be better for Dems this time out. His opponent, John Chrin, is an investment manager who worked at Goldman Sachs. He can put some of his own money into the race, but doesn't exactly fit the profile of the Trump coalition in this heavily working-class district.
Rating: 1 star

Around the region: Democrats are hoping for big gains in New Jersey. After the LoBiondo seat in South Jersey, their next two big opportunities are in the 11th district in North Jersey, where the incumbent is retiring, and in a Central Jersey district, the 7th, that abuts Pennsylvania (and is home to one of the president's golf clubs). Both are the kind of moderate, affluent districts that typically vote Republican but shifted away in 2016. Republican Leonard Lance is trying to hang on in the 7th.

The most optimistic Democrats think that if things go their way they could sweep every House seat in New Jersey. Leonard Lance, whose Central Jersey district abuts Pennsylvania, is facing a tough test in a wealthy district that Clinton narrowly won. Democrat Mikie Sherrill, seeking an open suburban seat in North Jersey, is favored in another key race and some Democrats are even dreaming of unseating longtime incumbent Chris Smith, who formerly represented Burlington County.