Plot thickens in 6th District race

Can populism change the math in the 16th District race?

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

TimesPoliticsUnusualThe race for the Sixth Congressional District got more interesting this week on a couple of fronts.

First, Manan Trivedi, who ran unsuccessfully against Jim Gerlach in 2010 and 2012, announced he would run again. Then, Mike Parrish, the other Democrat in the race, got the endorsement of U.S. Rep. (and Philly political boss) Bob Brady.

Trivedi was the lone candidate to look at the race following Gerlach’s decision in January and decide to get in. A number of high-profile candidates were linked to the race, but none bit.

From a practical standpoint, Trivedi’s decision makes sense. He has large amounts of donor data from his previous races and  a ready-made list of folks likely to support his efforts, which is no small thing when it comes to running these days. Also, he is fairly well-known and liked within the party and by a decent segment of the voters.

Both are big advantages and we’ll see whether they translate into votes and money for him.

Parrish’s endorsement by Brady, though, is a bit more of a double-edged sword. While the congressman is a true power in Philadelphia (some suggest he is among that rare but dying breed: a true party boss), large swaths of the Democratic Party in the suburbs dislike him strongly. Over the years, city Democrats have ignored —or worse — suburban Democrats and yet routinely expected them to support the city and Brady’s needs.

At best, for years it’s been a contentious relationship. But of late, it’s been worse — many blame Brady for his behind-the-scenes arm twisting that resulted in the current congressional districts — ones that are generally worse for suburban Democrats, but, not surprisingly, better for Brady.

So among suburban Democrats — where Parrish is already seen by many as suspect because of his recent conversion from the Republican Party — having Brady’s endorsement may actually drive many party activists into the Trivedi camp, if they aren’t there already.

Word on the street is that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is on board with Parrish, which further muddies the water. But as the D-Trip (as referred to by Democratic insiders) has managed suburban Philly congressional races about as well as the Mets have played in recent years, one questions whether that, too, might be more of a burden than a boon. In fact, only the state House Democratic Campaign Committee’s Hindenberg-like record is worse in the area.

The convention may answer one other burning question: who the heck are the Democrats running in the 7th Congressional District against U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan? The silence has been kind of strange.

It will be interesting to see the reaction that the candidates get at the Democratic County Convention — now on Feb. 22 (1 p.m. at Fugett Middle School in West Chester).


* * *

Is the time right for populism?

It’s a question that Democrat Tom Houghton seems to be asking in his run against U.S. Rep. Joe Pitts in the 16th District race.

This past week, Houghton delivered a petition to Pitts’ Willowdale office calling on the congressman to support an increase in the minimum wage.

Pitts is on the record opposing such a move — so Monday’s event was so much political theater, but it was done to a certain effect and with a background conversation going on now in America.

From business mogul Tom Perkins’ suggestion that votes be doled out on the basis of net worth (and this is the same guy who last month wrote in The Wall Street Journal that progressives are persecuting the rich the way the Nazis’ persecuted the Jews, so it’s a comment one must see as being an extreme fringe view not widely held among Republicans) to ongoing discussions about the distribution of wealth — and the increasing gap — and notions of economic fairness.

I think there’s fair arguments here on both sides about capitalism — but as workers continue to seem to be falling behind, are we on the cusp of the kind of progressive backlash that hasn’t been seen since the start of the 1900s? And will it be led by Republicans — as President Theodore Roosevelt and Sen. Robert La Follette did 110 years ago — or Democrats as seems more likely in the current environment?

Houghton appears to be running an unapologetic populist race — ranging from agriculture issues, to women’s rights to economic issues — designed to make Pitts appear to be an elitist tool of the rich.

Whether that is workable in a district where so many of the voters are either in the 1% or have strong aspirations to join them, remains to be seen. But if Houghton’s play taps into the simmering anger that is driving the Tea Party among other movements, it won’t just be big news in Chester County, but nationally. If it plays here, it will work even better elsewhere.

While the Sixth District Race might get the national spot light, it’s the 16th that might tell us much more about the next few years in politics.


* * *

Meanwhile, Republicans meet Wednesday night at Pierce Middle School. While Democrats have a number of potentially contentious primaries looming, the GOP has few — and as has been the norm the last few cycles, the party closed ranks behind a candidate in most races.

While there are contested races — most notably the state house race for the 167th District contest between incumbent Duane Milne and Ted Leisenring— one expects this convention to be largely harmonious, allowing Republicans to focus on organizing and raising money for the November elections and supporting the efforts of Gov. Tom Corbett — who looks to be facing an uphill battle to win reelection — this year.

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