Matt Cartwright, a personable Democratic attorney, hasn’t faced a truly tough race since he was elected in 2012 to his U.S. House district in north-central Pennsylvania. The Republicans who controlled the last redistricting in Pennsylvania drew his preponderantly white, heavily blue-collar district, which is centered on Scranton and Wilkes-Barre, as a Democratic stronghold so they could maximize GOP strength in the surrounding areas. President Obama easily carried the district twice, winning about 56 percent of the vote each time.
But last November, Cartwright’s district lurched sharply toward Donald Trump, who beat Hillary Clinton there by about 10 percentage points. The shift in Cartwright’s district from Mitt Romney’s deficit against Obama to Trump’s advantage over Clinton was larger than the change in all but one other seat in the entire country. Cartwright still won comfortably against a lightly funded opponent, but his vote dipped from 57 percent in 2014 to slightly below 54 percent. Now, Republicans are eyeing Cartwright as a potential target in the 2018 midterm election more seriously than ever before.
About 800 miles south of Scranton, Republican Representative Rob Woodall had a parallel experience in his diverse and well-educated suburban district northeast of Atlanta. Trump carried Woodall’s district, which has been considered safely Republican, but while Romney torched the district by 22 percentage points, Trump won by only a little more than six. Woodall still reached 60 percent against token opposition in his own race. But now, Democrats are asking—in a way they have not before—whether they can seriously challenge Woodall and other suburban Republicans like him, who represent districts where Trump sagged. “There’s no doubt that the first opportunities for Democrats in 2018 are in these suburban college-educated districts,” said Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson, a top communications aide to Clinton and former communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.