Targeted by the GOP, Pa’s Democratic U.S. House newcomers fill 2020 war chests

Pa's 'Fab Four' (l-r) U.S. Reps. Chrissy Houlahan, D-6th District; Susan Wild, D-7th District; Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th District; and Madeleine Dean, D-4th District on the House floor. (Rep. Dean/Facebook)

WASHINGTON — Freshmen Democrats from Pennsylvania are just getting settled in the U.S. House, but they continue to rake in campaign cash as they brace for battle again in 2020. 

U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, an Air Force veteran who flipped the 6th District in suburban Philadelphia from GOP control in 2018, has already raised more than $847,000 so far this year for her 2020 race, according to her most recent campaign finance report. Her campaign has $1.5 million in the bank. 

“It’s a lot of money,” said Leah Askarinam, an analyst with the nonpartisan newsletter Inside Elections. 

Houlahan jumped into the 2018 race expecting to face off against incumbent GOP Rep. Ryan Costello, but he dropped out after the state’s Supreme Court ruled that the congressional districts had been illegally gerrymandered. The new map gave Democrats an advantage in the district and Houlahan cruised to victory over Republican Greg McCauley. 

And while it’s early in the cycle, and Houlahan’s race doesn’t yet appear to be competitive, the freshman congresswoman doesn’t seem to be taking anything for granted. 

“She was recruited as somebody who needed to be able to raise a lot of money,” Askarinam said, and Houlahan is the same candidate, even though the district changed. 

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During her 2018 election cycle, Houlahan raised $4.4 million, spending $3.4 million of that, according to election records

She’s gotten contributions this year from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC); EMILY’s List, a political action committee that aims to help elect pro-choice Democratic women; and the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund. 

She’s also gotten contributions from her colleagues’ campaign committees — Democratic Reps. Nita Lowey of New York, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and Ted Lieu of California are among those who have donated some of their own campaign cash to Houlahan. 

“We are grateful for the support and are encouraged by the large number of people who believe in what we’re fighting for in the Pennsylvania Sixth and in Washington,” said a Houlahan campaign spokesperson. 

Republican school board member Tom Siedenbuehl has signed up to challenge Houlahan; he loaned himself the bulk of the $100,000 his campaign brought in so far this year. 

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Houlahan isn’t the only House rookie from Pennsylvania to stock up on campaign cash early in the cycle. 

U.S. Rep. Susan Wild of the Lehigh Valley-based 7th District, who flipped another former GOP-held seat last fall, raised about $585,000 in the first six months of this year, records show. She had about $423,000 in the bank at the end of June. 

In her 2018 campaign, Wild raised and spent about $3.3 million. Her competitor, Republican Marty Nothstein, spent only about $960,000 during that race. Wild won by 10 points in November. 

Wild is one of three Pennsylvania Democrats the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) has announced it plans to target in 2020. The others are Reps. Matt Cartwright of the Lackawanna County-based 8th District and Conor Lamb of the 17th District in suburban Pittsburgh. 

The NRCC launched an ad last month slamming Wild for her vote in support of H.R. 1, a sweeping voting rights and campaign finance reform law passed by the House earlier this year. Among other things, the bill would allow eligible congressional candidates to qualify for almost $5 million in federal funds to match small-donor contributions. Advocates say it would curb the influence of corporate money in campaigns. 

But the NRCC accused Wild of voting to “force taxpayers to fund her political campaign.”

Republican Dean Browning, a former Lehigh County commissioner, jumped into the race for Wild’s seat in January. He told The Morning Call that Wild’s election was the result of “a congressional blue wave that will recede quickly.” Wild said then that she wasn’t yet thinking about 2020. 

Browning raised $141,000 this year, including a $100,000 loan from himself. 

Like Houlahan, Wild has gotten donations from DCCC, EMILY’s List and the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund. Many of her colleagues have also sent their campaign cash her way, including Hoyer, Clyburn, Lowey and Lieu. Others include House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. and her fellow Democratic freshmen from Pennsylvania, U.S. Reps. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, and Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th District. 

Houlahan, Wild, Dean and Scanlon, who call themselves the “Fab Four,” have been doing joint fundraisers. 

Scanlon reported raising about $295,000 so far this year; Dean brought in about $281,000. 

Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, who represents the Bucks County-based 1st District and is seen as a prime target for Democrats in 2020, has raised the most among Pennsylvania lawmakers this cycle. He had raised about $928,000 by the end of June and had about $812,000 in the bank. 

Although it’s early in the cycle, Askarinam of Inside Elections said donors might soon shift their focus away from congressional districts. 

“So much of the attention in the rest of the cycle is going to go to the presidential race,” she said. “For that reason, it seems to me like this would be an important time for the House incumbents to be fundraising.” 

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