Pennsylvania Politics 2014: The 4 Stories We’ll All Be Following

From the top gubernatorial race in the country to the GOP's battle to take over the Senate, we've got it all.

2014 will be a huge year in Pennsylvania politics — and particularly Philly area politics — with contested house seats, jockeying for position in a mayoral race, the national media ‘s fascination with Chris Christie and the hottest governor’s race in the country.

Here’s more on the four major political storylines that will play out over the next year.

1. The Pennsylvania Governor’s Race

Pennsylvania tops the Washington Post list as the top 2014 gubernatorial race in the country because of the low poll ratings of incumbent Republican Governor Tom Corbett. State Republicans are starting to get a feeling of foreboding and many are looking for a new entry into the race. The insurgents’ dream candidate is Senator Pat Toomey, but he recently endorsed Corbett to make it clear he’s not interested. There are still three local politicians who could make a primary run at Corbett – Congressman Pat Meehan, Congressman Jim Gerlach and State Senate leader Dominic Pileggi.

Candidates are not a problem for the Democrats — the smell of blood in the water has attracted eight announced Democratic candidates for Governor, and that number is sure to grow. The one person who will not jump into the cage match is Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, much to the relief of current frontrunner and local Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, who is the slim front-runner, but would have lost poll points to the Democratic party’s new “It Girl.” Now the announced candidates hold their collective breaths waiting for popular former Auditor General Jack Wagner to make up his mind.

2. Chris Christie

The polls have him as the early frontrunner and he has done everything but announce that he is running for President, although Chris Christie’s victory speech after winning re-election as governor of New Jersey was close to being an announcement speech.

He lobbied for and was elected chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association. Now he will tour the country campaigning for Republican gubernatorial candidates, raising his stature, making connections and establishing new campaign funding sources. The new executive director of the New Hampshire Republican party is a former Chris Christie aid.

New Hampshire is the first presidential primary and crucial to a Christie campaign, as there is little chance he will win the earlier Iowa Caucus. In fact, Christie may skip Iowa to avoid a concession speech. The Republican electorate in Iowa is made up of the Tea Party faithful and Christian Evangelicals. Chris Christie is just not their cup of tea.

Watch for Christie to attempt to repair his image with the right, who are still furious that Christie embraced President Obama a week before the 2012 election. At the same time, watch for Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio to continue to take passive-aggressive pot shots at Christie as being the “establishment candidate,” the “media candidate” and a moderate, all death knells in a national Republican primary campaign.

3. The Philadelphia Mayor’s Race

We had one announced candidate, but then Tom Knox reconsidered and dropped out. That leaves exactly zero candidates officially running to replace Mayor Michael Nutter when his second term expires in 2015. The list of unofficial candidates is endless. City Council members Bill Green and Jim Kenney, City Controller Alan Butkovitz, State Senator Anthony Williams and District Attorney Seth Williams are the early favorites. Former Philadelphia Mayor and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has even been mentioned. The city charter does not preclude a third term, only a third consecutive term.

Aside from businesswoman Dana Spain, who says she is going to run as an Independent, the only woman mentioned as a possible candidate is former District Attorney Lynne Abraham, but she would turn 74 shortly after the swearing in ceremony. Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown was a hot name for a while, until she ran into some ethics problems.

As for the Republicans, it’s always a steep cliff after Sam Katz says no. He is once again flirting with a run. If not, the new Republican leadership promises an upgrade from Karen Brown, a pretty low bar.

Cory Booker

4. The Mid-Term Elections

The big national political story in 2014 will be the tug-of-war over control of Congress that is the mid-term elections. The Republicans believe they have a strong shot to win the Senate, but they shouldn’t expect any help for from the tri-state area. Of the six area Senate seats, only Democrat Chris Coons from Delaware and Cory Booker from New Jersey are up for re-election, Booker having just won the special election to fill the seat left vacant by the passing of Frank Lautenberg. Both Booker and Coons are expected to win easily.

On the other end of the rope, Democrats believe they have a shot at winning the House and have targeted several local districts. Polls show Republican Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick, PA- 8, and Pat Meehan, PA-7 may be vulnerable (that may be the catalyst for Meehan to jump into the race for Governor). Adding to the local intrigue, local Tea Party members are furious at Meehan, Fitzpatrick and Gerlach (PA-6) for at first voting to tie the funding of the government to Obamacare and then caving to political pressure. There are grumblings of primary challenges to the three as payback.

The blowback over the government shutdown chased former Philadelphia Eagle Jon Runyan from, office, leaving an open seat in New Jersey’s 3rd Congressional District, one the Democrats hope to pick up. And Republicans are eyeing a pick up in Montgomery County’s 13th Congressional district, left open by  Schwartz’s run for Governor.

Follow @LarryMendte on Twitter.