With new map, Pa. fields busy U.S. House pri­maries

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - NEWS - By Marc Levy

DILLSBURG, PA. » Ge­orge Scott got the in­evitable ques­tion a halfhour into a meet-the-can­di­date house party in the rolling hills of south-cen­tral Penn­syl­va­nia: How will you in­spire all those peo­ple in the con­gres­sional district who put up Don­ald Trump signs in 2016?

“Re­ally good ques­tion,” said Scott, a Demo­crat, to anx­ious laugh­ter around the room, be­fore an­swer­ing.

Mo­ti­vat­ing the nearly 30 peo­ple who came to see Scott was that they ac­tu­ally have a choice in this year’s con­gres­sional race: a four­way Demo­cratic pri­mary con­test in a stretch of Penn­syl­va­nia that has been rep­re­sented in Congress by a Repub­li­can for 50 years.

On May 15, Penn­syl­va­ni­ans will set­tle 21 con­gres­sional pri­mary con­tests, the state’s most since 1984. There are 84 can­di­dates, the same num­ber as in 1984 when Penn­syl­va­nia had 23 U.S. House seats, com­pared with 18 now.

Fuel­ing the flood of can­di­dates is Democrats’ anti-Trump fer­vor, as well as seven open seats, Penn­syl­va­nia’s most in decades.

But also con­tribut­ing is a court-or­dered re­draw­ing of Penn­syl­va­nia’s con­gres­sional dis­tricts, wip­ing out 6-year-old Repub­li­can­drawn bound­aries that the state Supreme Court deemed to be un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally ger­ry­man­dered to fa­vor Re­pub­li­cans.

The new map is ex­pected to help flip at least two seats to Democrats, and it is giv­ing Democrats ex­tra hope in ar­eas long rep­re­sented by Re­pub­li­cans where in­cum­bents are seek­ing re-elec­tion in dis­tricts that are no longer quite as Repub­li­can-friendly.

Vic­tory for Democrats in dis­tricts like those might not be nec­es­sary to help the party wrest con­trol of the U.S. House in Novem­ber’s elec­tions.

It could, how­ever, ma­jor­ity.

One of those dis­tricts is rep­re­sented by four-term Repub­li­can Rep. Mike Kelly, who didn’t even draw a chal­lenger for his north­west­ern Penn­syl­va­nia seat in 2016.

Al­though prog­nos­ti­ca­tors still heav­ily fa­vor Kelly, the court’s mod­est changes to the district’s bound­aries sub­stan­tially boosted Democrats’ re­cruit­ment ef­forts, said Bill Cole, Erie County’s Demo­cratic Party chair­man.

This year, Democrats are field­ing a three-way pri­mary race af­ter years of strug­gling to re­cruit a chal­lenger to Kelly.

“They al­ways came back with, ‘It’s not even winnable,’” Cole said.

An­other of those dis­tricts is rep­re­sented by three-term Repub­li­can Rep. Scott Perry, owner of one of the most con­ser­va­tive life­time vot­ing records in Congress, help pad a based on Amer­i­can Con­ser­va­tive Union rat­ings.

Perry ac­knowl­edges the district will be more chal­leng­ing for him. But Perry has re­buffed any ad­vice that he change how he votes, he said.

In­stead, Perry said, he in­tends to cam­paign ag­gres­sively and per­suade vot­ers who don’t know him that they share the same val­ues.

“I think most peo­ple when they hear about the things that I be­lieve in, they’re the same things they be­lieve in,” Perry said in an in­ter­view this month.

This year, Scott and three other first-time Demo­cratic can­di­dates are com­pet­ing for the party nom­i­na­tion to chal­lenge Perry in Novem­ber.

Scott, a 20-year Army veteran and Lutheran min­is­ter, warned the crowd at the house party that Perry re­mains a for­mi­da­ble op­po­nent.

“A new 10th District is much bet­ter elec­torally than the old 4th District was, but don’t get it wrong,” Scott said. “This is not go­ing to be easy.”

Perry has not won a gen­eral elec­tion by fewer than 25 per­cent­age points and, in 2016, Trump beat Demo­crat Hil­lary Clin­ton in the district by 21 points. Un­der the court-drawn bound­aries in ef­fect for this year’s elec­tion, Trump would have won Perry’s home district by just 9 points.

Scott was so af­fected by Trump’s elec­tion that he was pre­pared to chal­lenge Perry un­der the old bound­aries. He filed can­di­dacy pa­per­work last year, com­pelled to re­spond to the hos­til­ity of the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion trick­ling down to his com­mu­nity and his con­gre­ga­tion at Trin­ity Lutheran Church.

“That was deeply dis­turb­ing and I felt like it was time to do more,” Scott, 56, said in an in­ter­view.

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