In Bucks County, Fitzpatrick faces right-wing primary challenger Houck

Fitzpatrick, a self-described moderate, has successfully fended off GOP primary opponents before. Challenger Mark Houck is looking to do what others couldn't.

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Brian Fitzpatrick and Mark Houck

Incumbent Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick and his primary challenger Mark Houck. (AP photo/Matt Rourke/Campaign)

Elections 2024: Your voter game plan

Pennsylvania voters will be busy at the polls this election season.

In addition to the attorney general, auditor general and treasurer contests, voters in the Keystone State will also decide on a handful of federal races. All 435 House seats across the country are up for election. In many of these primary bids, incumbent candidates are running uncontested races.

But in Bucks County, U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is looking to fend off a challenger from his right. The self-described moderate Republican has served Pennsylvania’s 1st congressional district since 2017. Right-wing Republican Mark Houck, a vocal anti-abortion activist, is not the first candidate to primary Fitzpatrick, but he hopes to be the first to win.

The victor of the Republican primary will face Democratic challenger Ashley Ehasz. Fitzpatrick defeated her in the 2022 general election by nine percentage points. As the last Republican House member in Philadelphia’s suburbs, Fitzpatrick’s political viability is wearing thin in a county that has turned more blue than purple over the last decade.

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Republican incumbent Brian Fitzpatrick

First elected in 2016, Fitzpatrick has built a reputation as the quintessential moderate Republican. He grew up in Levittown and received an undergraduate degree from La Salle University. He later earned an MBA and a law degree from Penn State University.

After graduating, he spent time as a judicial clerk in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Before his tenure in Congress, Fitzpatrick was most known for his nearly 15-year stint at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, where he served as an FBI supervisory special agent. He led the FBI’s Public Corruption Unit and was the national director of the bureau’s Campaign Finance and Election Crimes Enforcement Program. Fitzpatrick also worked as a special assistant to the U.S. attorney.

Fitzpatrick, who is a certified emergency medical technician, worked in the private sector as an attorney as well as an accountant. He isn’t the only politician in the family. He succeeded his brother, the late U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, who served the area when it was Pennsylvania’s 8th congressional district.

Fitzpatrick has maintained his image as an independent voice in the GOP in an era of hyperpartisanship. He’s bucked with his party on numerous issues including on climate change, gerrymandering, gun control and LGBTQ rights. He refused to endorse far-right state Sen. Doug Mastriano’s unsuccessful bid for governor in 2022.

He’s also been involved with bipartisan efforts to establish good government policy. In May 2023, he introduced a bill alongside Rep. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Matt Gaetz, among others, to prohibit members of Congress from trading stocks.

While he was one of three Republicans to support allowing people to cross state lines for an abortion, Fitzpatrick’s past and voting record is littered with contradictions with regards to abortion rights.

Historically, Fitzpatrick has steered clear of former President Donald Trump and his far-right colleagues in Congress. He did not attend Trump’s recent visit to Bucks County and has avoided the media this campaign cycle.

He is running on a campaign that stresses “independent leadership.”

“No more finger pointing. Now more than ever, we need real leadership that focuses on finding solutions and getting things done. That is the attitude I have brought to Congress, as it reflects the values of our community,” Fitzpatrick said on his campaign site. “Our nation faces critical challenges. The key to rising to the challenges before us is to focus on priorities like keeping our families safe and putting the American Dream back on track.”

Republican candidate Mark Houck

Houck gained notoriety as an anti-abortion folk hero following his 2022 indictment for assaulting a 72-year-old reproductive health care clinic escort in Philadelphia. The Kintnersville resident was later acquitted, clearing the path for his ascent in politics.

He primarily makes his living as an author, lecturer and radio host. The Catholic University alumnus previously worked as a full-time chastity educator, human resource manager, teacher and high school football coach.

Houck is a co-founder of The King’s Men, a far-right Christian men’s group. The website for the group chronicles its mission and serves a door to the mind of Houck, who blogged his trial experience.

Self-described as “authentically Catholic” and “unapologetically masculine,” the nonprofit claims to have taken actions that have led “to the closure of more than 20 sexually oriented businesses (SOBs) and positively influenced the lives of hundreds of thousands of men.”

As a result of the alleged scuffle outside of the abortion clinic in 2022, Houck decided to sue the U.S. Department of Justice over his arrest, further planting his name in the national headlines.

While there was a time people thought Houck’s campaign met an early demise, it is still active. He’s running on a platform focused on limiting government, strengthening the military and defunding the U.S. Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Houck wants to ban abortion with no exceptions for rape or incest.

“I will focus on restoring traditional values and bringing back Constitutional representation to our community that is central to our American identity including faith, family, freedom to speak, assemble, petition and redress government,” Houck said on his campaign site. “I will always support life, defend our right to bear arms, protect private property rights and work hard to stop federal overreach into personal lives and pocketbooks.”

Democratic candidate Ashley Ehasz

Ehasz comes to the race with an extensive background in military service. She joined the Army at the age of 17 and became an attack helicopter pilot. She served in Kuwait and Iraq as a platoon leader, battalion logistics officer and as a pilot-in-command.

Once promoted to captain, Ehasz served in South Korea. The U.S. Military Academy at West Point graduate later earned a master’s degree at the University of Oxford.

She has also worked as a policy writer and project coordinator.

Ehasz believes she’s “battle-tested” for this race — she ran against Fitzpatrick in 2022. She told the Inquirer that what differentiates this race is that Democrats are “on the offensive.”

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Ashley Ehasz
Ashley Ehasz in Newtown, Pa. (Ashley Ehasz/Facebook)

Bucks County Democrats have grown more successful in recent years, snatching row offices,   occupying a majority of seats on the Board of Commissioners and flipping key school board races.

But Fitzaptrick’s popularity remains a major obstacle for any candidate seeking the congressional seat.

Ehasz hopes to clear the hurdle, campaigning on abortion access, protecting the environment, labor rights, voting rights, addressing student debt and raising the minimum wage — all while attempting to draw stark contrasts with Fitzpatrick.

“Lack of access to good-paying jobs, mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and affordable education has held our communities back, all while we deal with skyrocketing drug prices, existential threats to abortion access, student loan debt, a stagnant minimum wage, and the destructive consequences of climate change,” Ehasz said on her campaign site. “Something’s got to change, and Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick has simply failed to get the job done. I’m not a politician. I’m not going to Washington to cozy up to lobbyists — I am going to roll up my sleeves and solve problems.”

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