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Democrats plan to spend big to flip Scott Perry's race in Pennsylvania The GOP says they're wasting their money

Aliya Schneider, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Political News

PHILADELPHIA — Influential Democratic campaign groups plan to spend big to defeat U.S. Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.) and lift the campaign of Democrat Janelle Stelson, a former broadcast journalist and ex-Republican, with the hopes that she can flip the red district. Republicans, however, aren’t too worried about the race.

The House Majority PAC (HMP), a Super PAC focused on electing Democrats to the U.S. House, announced in April that it would spend $2.4 million on ads for the Stelson-Perry Central Pennsylvania district as part of a $186 million buy across the country, signaling a serious push to concentrate efforts on the district.

The race also recently landed on the coveted “Red to Blue” list, which outlines the districts that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) — the campaign arm for House Democrats — wants to flip. The DCCC announced its first round of ad reservations on Tuesday, and while the Perry-Stelson race wasn’t on the list, the committee said it’s prioritizing “crowded and expensive” broadcast markets in states with competitive top-of-ticket races.

The other Pennsylvania race on the Red to Blue list is Ashley Ehasz’s challenge of U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick in Bucks County’s 1st Congressional District, which also made Tuesday’s spending list. Stelson and Ehasz have already begun working together to boost each other’s campaigns, such as in a co-signed emailed fundraising call supporters of both.

The House Majority PAC has been eying Perry’s 10th Congressional District since even before Stelson won a crowded Democratic primary to challenge Perry. The district, which spans Dauphin County and parts of York and Cumberland Counties, has an electorate comprised of 44% Republicans, 38% Democrats, and 17% unaffiliated or third party voters.

In 2020, the district preferred incumbent Donald Trump over Biden by four percentage points and, in the hotly contested 2022 Pennsylvania Senate race, it went in favor of Republican Mehmet Oz over John Fetterman. But on that same ballot, district voters swung toward the center left when they elected Josh Shapiro as governor over far-right state Sen. Doug Mastriano, showing a willingness to break from the GOP.

Perry became a national political figure in 2020 when he tried to throw out the state’s electoral votes in order to keep Trump in the White House. This year, Democrats are framing him as too extreme for the district while Perry is trying to lump Stelson in with President Joe Biden as too far left. Perry has also attacked Stelson for living outside the district in nearby Lancaster County, though Stelson has been a familiar face on TV and lived in different parts of the district over the years.

Perry, who was first elected in 2012, has won his races decisively, but in 2018, Democrat George Scott got close, falling just under three points behind him.

National Republican strategists said they view Perry’s district as safe, with the National Republican Campaign Committee spokesperson Mike Marinella calling a flip a “pipe dream.” Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF), the super PAC dedicated to electing Republicans to the U.S. House, didn’t signal investment in the race in its May ad reservation announcement. The $141 million Republican ad buy didn’t mention Harrisburg ― the market for Perry and Stelson’s race — but it did include the Philadelphia market, targeting Fitzpatrick’s race.

“If Democrats want to waste their money in a district President Trump is poised to carry by a substantial margin, then by all means,” CLF Communications Director Courtney Parella said in a statement.

 

But House Majority PAC Communications Director CJ Warnke claimed that the real reason CLF isn’t investing in the race is “because they know insurrectionist Scott Perry and his extremist policies to defund law enforcement and restrict access to IVF will doom him in November.”

Perry voted for the Default on America Act, which included cutting funding for federal law enforcement, and he is a longtime sponsor of the Life at Conception Act, which would guarantee a “right to life” starting at fertilization.

CLF said it spent more than $1.5 million on ads for Perry in 2020, and that additional ad reservations will come as necessary as the cycle progresses.

And just as the CLF can add money to the race down the line, HMP can pull back.

Spending announcements can be symbolic. CLF and HMP have both pulled money out of races as they’ve progressed.

Stelson has been close behind Perry in polls conducted by her campaign, as well as in a Franklin and Marshall College poll, which had a 6.1% margin of error. A national Republican strategist said that Perry’s polling at 50% or more is a good sign he’s safe, but Democrats see the results as a positive for Stelson.

But if the F&M results are representative of reality, voters have a lot to learn about the candidates before casting their ballots — and may still change their mind before November or skip the ballot altogether. Turnout is likely to be a determining factor in the 2024 election with polling showing that many voters are unimpressed with the two presidential candidates at the top of the ticket.

According to the Franklin and Marshall poll, more than a quarter of voters in the district didn’t know that Perry voted against certifying the 2020 election results and that he helped make a plan to pressure former Vice President Mike Pence to throw out electoral votes from states Biden won. Half of voters didn’t know Stelson lives outside the district lines, and more than 40% didn’t know enough about her to have an opinion.


©2024 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC. Visit at inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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