Democrats have yet another chance to pick up a congressional seat after the shocking scandal that took down Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania — but they face quite an uphill climb.
Still, they’re confident.
“First of all, I think we’re going to win this election,” said Nancy Patton Mills, chair of the Allegheny County Democratic Committee, one of four counties that make up Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District. “Tim Murphy was an incumbent, we can never take away from the challenging of an incumbent and how difficult that could be.”
But Republicans — even after the incumbent Murphy resigned following the revelation that the anti-abortion congressman suggested to a mistress that she have an abortion — are just as confident, if not more so.
Following Murphy announcing his resignation last week, which will take effect later this month, National Republican Congressional Committee chairman Steve Stivers said in a statement that he was looking “forward to seeing how national Democrats can spin yet another special election loss into a so-called ‘moral victory.'”
That comment followed what, for Democrats, has been a depressing slate of special congressional elections in 2017. In the four races that both parties have competed in, Republicans have won all four, although each was in a solidly Republican district. Pennsylvania’s 18th is also solidly Republican, however. Murphy, who has represented the district since 2003, had almost no issue getting consistently reelected in a district that voted for 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney by 17 points and President Donald Trump by an even more impressive 20 points.
“It’s a special election, and we’ve demonstrated … that we can win special elections,” A Republican House strategist told Business Insider. “Democrats, on the other hand, basically engage in an exercise of futility because they spend a bunch of money and don’t get any closer to adding members to their coalition in Congress.”
The strategist added that the “early Democratic enthusiasm, which was there early in the year, has dissipated a little bit.”
“I think the special election losses have taken the wind out of the sails of Democrats slightly,” they continued. “So, I think that that early enthusiasm when you had all the protests and a lot of that stuff going on in the first two or three months of the year, it woke everyone up to the fact that this progressive energy is real, and nothing can be taken for granted.”
The race, which does not have primary dates or a general election scheduled yet, features a handful of candidates on both sides who have already announced their intent to run.
And while the district remains solidly Republican, there are some encouraging signs for Democrats. The Cook Political Report downgraded the district from “solid” to “likely Republican,” including it on its list of competitive races. And as Mills noted, the Democrats no longer have to go up against an incumbent.
“I think that people were discouraged because of the amount of money they had to spend against the Democratic challenger,” she said. “By having him resign, we have an open seat. The Republicans will have the same challenges that we have.”
She added that locally, “unlike what you might be hearing nationally,” Democrats in the western part of the state have been “very energised” since President Donald Trump’s election.
The Democratic Party committee chair pointed to something that her organisation has translated that energy into — a strongly staffed phone bank that will be working to turn out voters in the district “whether they live in” it or not.
And on the Republican side, not everyone is thrilled at the prospect of the upcoming special election, which Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf will announce by the end of the month.
Justin DePlato, a political science professor at Robert Morris University and a delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention representing the district, told Business Insider in an email that “many folks I talk to here in the district are really upset over Mr. Murphy’s poor judgment and his disregard for the constituents.”
“In particular folks are upset on his hypocrisy over abortion and his infidelity,” he said.
DePlato said local Republicans “fear” that “party leaders will move quickly to find another RINO,” or Republican in Name Only, to present to voters.
“I have even had folks ask me to run, which I think shows the high frustration people have with the party and the insider hypocrisy and cronyism,” he said, adding that “if the party continues running RINOs then the future of the party is in serious doubt.”
“I fret many will now fear the party trying to cram a candidate down the voters’ throats,” he continued. “Special elections are often the most controlled elections.”
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