A Bucks County Dem makes the case against Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick. Is she right? | Friday Morning Coffee

Christina Finello, left, is challenging Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, right, in the 1st Congressional District outside Philadelphia. (Finello courtesy of Finello campaign, Fitzpatrick courtesy of AFGE/Flickr)

Good Friday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

On Thursday, Christina Finello, a community leader and health care advocate, became the third Democrat to jump into the 2020 race to unseat freshman Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick in Bucks County’s 1st Congressional District.

In a memo announcing her candidacy, Finello, the only Democratic member of borough council in tiny Ivyland Borough, argued what she said was the case against Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent and the only GOP member of Congress left standing in the Philadelphia suburbs, after last fall’s Blue Wave election.

Fitzpatrick’s vulnerabilities, according to Finello, include his votes “to give a tax cut to billionaires [which] has gotten even more unpopular with voters as has his support for privatizing Social Security and voting for give-aways to insurance and drug companies.”

“While 2018 may have been the fight of his life, 2020 promises to be even more unkind to Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick,” Finello’s memo reads.

Is she right? Let’s consider the possibilities below.

While it’s true that Fitzpatrick did vote for President Donald Trump’s tax cut bill in 2017, earning him the ire of some district residents, Fitzpatrick tried to inoculate himself  by punching up what he said were provisions favorable to individuals and small businesses.

Whether that will be enough is anyone’s guess. By Tax Day of this year, the tax cuts, which have ultimately proven to be largely a boon to the 1 percent, remained deeply unpopular with the majority of Americans.

Fitzpatrick went into the new session of Congress as one of the two most heavily targeted Republicans in Pennsylvania (Yes, U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-10th District, we’re looking at you). But with the beginning of the new session, Fitzpatrick has voted with the White House just 34 percent of the time, down from his 84 percent record in the last session, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight.com.

Image via Flickr Commons

Just for instance:

Fitzpatrick was notably among just a handful of Republicans to vote to condemn Trump’s hateful tweets against the group of minority women U.S. representatives collectively known as ‘The Squad.’ He voted with Democrats last week to boost the federal minimum wage to $15/hr. He also voted with Democrats to protect union pensions (with pensions of Philly-area grocery workers on the line). He joined with Democrats on a bill extending anti-discrimination protections to LGBTQ Americans, and he sided with Dems on a bill offering a path to citizenship for Dreamers.

Fitzpatrick has also been out in front in calling on Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency to step up its regulation of water contaminants known as PFAS chemicals. And he led the fight for a permanent funding source for the popular Land Water Conservation Fund.

So, at least when it comes to key votes, it’s going to be tough for Finello and fellow Democrats Judi Reiss and Debbie Waschpress, to pin Fitzpatrick down as a rubber stamp for Trump’s White House.

(Photo via Flickr Commons)

If Fitzpatrick is going to run into a problem, it’s in the demographics and the numbers.

As Finello points out in her memo, the remapped 1st District went heavy for both Gov. Tom Wolf (58.5 percent) and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., (56 percent) in 2018, while Fitzpatrick narrowly edged Democratic challenger, Scott Wallace by 2.5 percent in last fall.

That initially looks worrying until you consider the competition. Wallace, while not exactly a charisma-magnet, was still Jack Kennedy, compared to the walking, talking hot messes that Wolf and Casey respectively faced in Republicans Scott Wagner and Lou Barletta.

While the only way Wolf and Casey could have lost last fall was to be hit by meteors, Fitzpatrick was still running until the last moment in what was essentially a 50-50 district.

If there’s an opening for Finello — or some other Democrat — it’s in (as Finellopoints out) the more than 98,000 district voters who didn’t show up in 2018. This group is, according to her analysis:

  • +4 percent Democrat by registration (43 percent  Dem to 39 percent GOP)
  • 54 percent are women
  • 48 percent are under the age of 45
  • 22 percent are under the age of 30

That’s a cohort that indisputably favors Democrats — and one that could, if sufficiently motivated by the right candidate, extend their wrath down the ticket to the 1st District race. And it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

“They [Democrats] will tie him to Trump,” despite his votes, veteran political analyst Terry Madonna told the Capital-Star. “He narrowly won in 2018, [and] if he’s caught up in a Democratic wave, that’s his biggest concern.

“He’s active in the district, and generally known as a good constituent-server,” Madonna continued. “I do think he could be beaten under the right circumstances and the right opponent.”

Decidedly not humble –President Donald Trump (Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr Commons)

Other demographic factors could make it easier for whomever emerges from the Democratic primary field to link Fitzpatrick to Trump.

Since 2016, the 1st District has added 27,012 new voters, Finello noted in her memo. Of those new voters, a plurality (42 percent) are Democrats, while clear majorities are aged 45 and younger. That’s another cohort that tends to vote Democratic under the right circumstances.

“With suburban, college-educated voters increasingly voting for Democrats in the past two elections, PA-1 is a 63 percent suburban district and is 38 percent more affluent than the state average, while the number of people with college degrees is 33 percent higher than state average,” Finello notes in her memo.

While that doesn’t suggest a foregone conclusion for Democrats, it does suggest trend lines are on their side. Still, there’s no doubt that this is going to be a hugely expensive and competitive race — irrespective of whoever emerges from the Democratic primary field.

Join us, won’t you?

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(Photo via Flickr Commons)

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An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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