After Barrar’s retirement announcement, 160th District race is wide open
● By Steven Hoffman
The calendar hasn’t even flipped to 2020 yet, and the race for the 160th Pennsylvania House of Representatives district is already shaping up as one of the more intriguing State House contests in the next election cycle.
On Nov. 19, Steve Barrar, the incumbent who has served as the State Representative in the 160th District since 1997, announced that he plans to retire at the end of his current term.
Barrar cited a desire to spend more time with his family as well as some serious health issues as reasons why he decided to retire now.
“It is bittersweet to announce my intentions to retire from the General Assembly at the end of my term in November of 2020 and I will not run for another term as a member in the General Assembly,” Barrar said in statement released on Nov. 19. “On Dec 1, 2019, I will begin my 24th year in the Legislature, a job I have loved since being elected in 1996. This has been the opportunity of a lifetime, and I hope I have represented you well and to the best of my ability. It is not easy to leave, I have always loved this job, but after 24 years, I feel it is time to step down.”
Barrar’s retirement announcement wasn’t a surprise to political insiders, and neither was Democrat Anton Andrew’s decision to run for the seat for a second time. In the 2018 election, Andrew came within about 900 votes of unseating Barrar, and when that previous showing is factored into the equation, along with the recent election wins by several Chester County Democrats, may set the stage for Democrats to win the 160th District seat in 2020.
The 160th District is comprised of portions of Chester County and Delaware County, including Kennett Square Borough, Kennett Township, Pennsbury Township, and Pocopson Township in Chester County and Bethel Township, Chadds Ford Township, Concord Township, and five wards in Upper Chichester Township in Delaware County. The 160th District has always been represented by someone from Delaware County, and it has almost always been represented by a Republican. With the exception of four years in the 1970s, Republicans have always held this seat.
Barrar is no exception, having frequently won re-election by wide margins. In 2010, he won with 64 percent of the vote, ran unopposed in 2012, and overcame the challenge of Whitney Hoffman, now a supervisor in Kennett Township, in 2014. Barrar then won 81 percent of the vote two years later, when he was challenged by an Independent candidate and no Democrat was on the ballot. Then came the 2018 election and the strong showing by Andrew, who earned 48.51 percent of the overall vote. He was boosted by a particularly strong turnout by Democrats in Chester County, where he out-polled Barrar.
Now, in 2020, there won’t be a longtime incumbent running so the path to an Election Day victory is much more wide open.
While Republicans still hold an advantage in terms of registered voters in the 160th District, Democrats have been making gains in both Chester County and Delaware County.
If Andrew, an attorney with degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and Hofstra School of Law, can win the Democratic nomination in the Primary Election in the Spring, he could get a further boost from the “blue wave” that has resulted in unprecedented wins by Democrats in Chester County during the last two election cycles.
When he announced his campaign kickoff for 2020, Andrew said that the results of 2018 strengthened his determination and commitment to win the 160th District race in 2020.
“I've been working tirelessly every day to make certain we flip this seat in 2020,” he said in a statement announcing his candidacy. “That’s meant spending time getting to know even more about every part of the district by attending school board, county and township council meetings.
I’ve been canvassing for candidates, meeting voters at their homes, and advocating for issues that are most important…[including] common sense gun safety reform, fair funding for our schools, and protecting our environment.”
Although it’s still early in the campaign, more candidates will likely line up to challenge for the 160th District seat. Cathy Spahr from Upper Chichester is a likely Democratic challenger, who ran against Andrew for the party’s nomination in 2018. On the Republican side, Dan Foltz has been mentioned as a potential candidate.
The filing deadline for candidates to take part in the Primary Election is Feb. 18, 2020, and the Primary Election takes place on April 28. The general election will be held on Nov. 3.
With no incumbent in the race, the 160th District seat is being targeted as part of the statewide effort by Democrats to win control of the Pennsylvania State House. In order to do that, Democrats will need to flip nine seats. Local Democrats are enthusiastic that a strong candidate like Andrew will help win a critical race.
“The 160th District is one of the top-five pick-up opportunities for the Democratic Party in 2020,” said Wayne Braffman, the chair of the Kennett Area Democrats. “Anton Andrew lost this race by less than 900 votes in 2018. With the recent Democratic surge in both Chester and Delaware counties, and Rep. Steve Barrar's retirement, the Democrats are in good position to win this seat in 2020.”