Suburban Dems prepare for fall congressional battles

Posted: May 22, 2014

THE PRIMARY was cake. Now comes the tough part for suburban Democrats.

Former Army Ranger and CIA analyst Kevin Strouse was leading businesswoman Shaughnessy Naughton late last night in the Democratic primary for Bucks County's 8th Congressional District seat.

In November, the winner will take on Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, a battle-tested survivor in one of the state's few remaining competitive districts. Most of Pennsylvania has been carved up to protect congressional incumbents.

Democrats also have a tough road ahead in the GOP-held 6th and 7th Congressional Districts, where yesterday's primaries were uncontested.

Strouse, 34, a veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars who moved into the district last year and works at an educational nonprofit, was poised to defeat Naughton, 35, a Bucks County native and former breast cancer researcher, according to unofficial results.

Strouse and Naughton ran mostly positive campaigns - unlike the nasty Democratic primaries for governor and in the 13th Congressional District - and didn't clash on major policy points, aside from fracking. Naughton proposed a permanent ban on fracking in the Delaware River Basin. Strouse supported a moratorium in Bucks and Montgomery counties, but had called a permanent ban on natural gas drilling "premature."

But Strouse, who was backed by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, would emerge from the primary with a potential weak spot for Fitzpatrick to attack: Last week, the Inquirer reported that Strouse's parents had donated money to Democratic candidates in Colorado, Florida, Illinois and California, and that the parents of those candidates donated nearly identical amounts to Strouse's campaign at about the same time. The Strouse campaign has not provided an explanation.

In the Chester-County based 6th District, Democrat Manan Trivedi, a doctor and Iraq war veteran, will face Republican Chester County Commissioner Ryan Costello in November to determine who replaces retiring U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach.

In the heavily gerrymandered 7th District, Republican U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan is a strong favorite over Democrat Mary Ellen Balchunis, a La Salle University political scientist. The district, once mostly in Delaware County, now has tentacles reaching into Chester, Montgomery, Berks and Lancaster counties.

Christopher Borick, a political-science professor at Muhlenberg College, said it could be difficult for Democrats to take any of the three seats without a national political wave or local scandal. Opposition to Obamacare seems to be energizing Republicans nationally.

"Even though Americans say they don't like members of Congress, we still overwhelming vote for incumbents," Borick said. "It's been so gerrymandered to create safe Republican or Democratic districts. Right now, it seems to have worked."

On Twitter: @wbender99

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