Democrats have begun ramping up their spending weeks before a Pennsylvania state House special election that will determine control of the chamber.
The open-seat contest on Feb. 13 in the 140th state House district has emerged as a prime target for the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee — the national Democratic arm in charge of funding candidates for state legislative races — which said Tuesday it would make an initial $50,000 investment in the race.
News of the group’s investment was shared with NBC News ahead of its release later Tuesday morning.
The money comes from a $21 million fundraising haul, which the group announced this month, that will be allocated across an array of states with competitive legislative races.
The DLCC's investment is the first sizable one in the race between Democrat Jim Prokopiak and Republican Candace Cabanas by either party.
According to the ad tracking firm AdImpact, there have been only minimal levels of spending in the race so far. The Cabanas campaign, the Republican State Leadership Committee and the Bucks County GOP didn’t respond to questions about planned investments in the race.
The race for a district in Bucks County — a purple area in the northern suburbs of Philadelphia — could offer Democrats some clues about how the party is faring in the key county months ahead of the 2024 election.
Party control of the state House is tied at 101. Democrats had a one-seat majority before former state Rep. John Galloway, a Democrat, resigned after he won a judgeship in the county in November.
Republicans control the state Senate, while Democrats hold the governorship.
The race is the seventh special election in the state House in the past year, with partisan control of the closely divided chamber often seesawing with the results. Democrats won five of the six special elections in state House seats last year.
“The fact that we’re seeing a positive Democratic overperformance across all these specials tells us that voters — Democrats — are willing to show up and that they understand the stakes,” said Heather Williams, the president of the DLCC.
While the 140th District leans blue, it’s part of a key swing county.
Galloway, who had held the seat for 16 years until he resigned, ran unopposed in 2022 and defeated his Republican opponent in 2020 by 20 points.
But in the 2020 presidential race, Joe Biden won Bucks County by just over 17,000 votes — or by about 4.4 percentage points — while in 2016, Hillary Clinton won it by fewer than 2,000 votes. Biden’s margin of victory in 2020 and Clinton’s in 2016 were larger in the 140th District in those years. The district’s borders are now slightly different because the state adopted new legislative maps in 2022.
Still, Williams views the race as a potential bellwether, given the importance that suburban voters — whom both parties have aggressively targeted in recent cycles — will have in the 2024 election.
“We’ve seen voters who continue to show up for Democrats to continue to be concerned about their freedoms,” including, most prominently, those surrounding abortion rights and reproductive health care, Williams said.
“This is a suburban district in Bucks County,” she added. “And suburban voters have told us a lot over the last couple of elections."