The race for Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District seat is considered one of the most competitive in the country.
Democratic challenger and current state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is seeking to unseat Republican incumbent Scott Perry, who has held the position since 2012.
But the district that currently includes portions of York, Dauphin and Cumberland counties hasn’t even existed all that long.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court forced state lawmakers to redraw congressional districts two years ago, after they ruled a 2011 map to be gerrymandered in favor of the GOP. Up until then, Congressman Scott Perry represented a safely Republican district that covered mostly York County.
Though the map redraw promised Perry a more competitive district that included large swaths of Democratic voters in the Harrisburg area, the Republican prevailed against Democratic newcomer George Scott. He’s hoping to repeat that success.
“You know me. You know what I stand for. You know that I will fight for you,” Perry said, appealing to viewers of a debate on ABC 27 in Harrisburg last week.
According to state election data compiled by the Cook Political Report, voters in the district have supported Republican candidates both before and after the map redraw. Its Partisan Voting Index has consistently given the GOP the electoral edge.
But Congressman Perry’s 2018 re-election effort earned just 51 percent of the vote.
His opponent, Democrat Eugene DePasquale, believes it’s a big reason why he might have the upper hand in November. He notes he is a much more experienced candidate than Scott was two years ago.
To him, Perry is too much like President Trump to represent the region. He laid out his case recently in the same ABC 27 debate.
“It’s clear what’s happening there,” DePasquale said. “Scott and all the rest of them are all out of touch. He’s simply too extreme for our region and our state and our country.”
Here’s a little background on both of the candidates:
Perry’s family moved to Pennsylvania when he was seven. By his early teens, he worked a number of odd jobs to support his financially-struggling household.
In 1980, Perry enlisted in the commonwealth’s Army National Guard and flew 44 combat missions during a 2009-2010 deployment in Iraq. He retired just last year as a Brigadier General. In the 1990s, he started a mechanical contracting business.
Perry served in the state House between 2007 and 2013, leaving after he won his first congressional race in 2012.
Last month, he told the York County Rotary Club those experiences shaped his outlook.
“I went from the outhouse to Congress,” Perry said. “But, that’s the promise of America. And I want every single person to have that, across our district, our commonwealth and our country, and that’s my focus every single day.”
Perry also has made remarks that resonate with the president’s base, claiming, for example, ISIS was behind a mass shooting in Las Vegas. More recently, during that same Rotary Club interview, Perry said he has doubts systemic racism exists.
“I will tell you in my experience, in my life with the military, as an employee, as an employer I have not experienced that. I have not seen that. That’s not to say that racism and bigotry doesn’t exist in our country. Clearly, it does,” Perry said.
Perry is hoping his unwavering support of President Trump on law enforcement, immigration, and other areas will help him win the seat. He’s also relying on his incumbency, arguing his familiarity with the inner workings of Congress gives him more power to help Central Pennsylvanians.
Perry said during the ABC 27 debate that’s borne out most recently in his support for the Paycheck Protection Program and school reopenings.
“I’ve been working on these things: the things that concern you, the things that you’re talking about around your dinner table. You know you can count on me to continue to work on these things in Washington DC.”
DePasquale’s life experiences also weren’t easy. When he was young, his father ended up in jail after becoming addicted to painkillers during the Vietnam War. His brother, who had muscular dystrophy, passed away at the age of 20.
The Democrat earned a law degree, and began his political career by 2002. DePasquale was a state House lawmaker at the exact same time Congressman Perry was, between 2007 and 2013. He left that chamber after being elected state auditor general in 2012.
DePasquale said in an interview with WITF he feels like he’s more than just a politician.
“I’m a dad, I’m a fitness nut and I’m a sports fan and a Star Wars fan,” DePasquale said “I’m sort of all of that wrapped up.”
It’s that claim of transparency that’s central to DePasquale’s Congressional pitch. He’s repeatedly touted holding a Republican and Democratic governor to account as the Auditor General, most recently finding the Wolf administration unfairly determined which businesses were essential.
DePasquale also touts his independence, as someone who can cross ideological lines to get things done.
“The same thing that you’ve seen as your auditor general for the last eight years will be the same thing you’ll see as your member of Congress,” he told the ABC 27 debate crowd.
Congressman Perry rejects those claims, and has worked to paint his opponent as allied with liberal D-C congressional leaders like Nancy Pelosi.
It’s worth asking: How did this congressional race become one of the closest-watched in the country with a particularly nasty bent of late? Here’s a sampling of the attack ads in this race from the last few months:
Assistant Professor Dan Mallinson, who teaches public policy and administration at Penn State University Harrisburg, said there are a few reasons.
Both Perry and DePasquale have name recognition among 10th Congressional voters, and each has raised more than $1 million for their campaigns. Couple that with the 2018 redrawing of congressional districts, and it could well be a tossup.
“Based on those dynamics, it is one of the races that the Democrats could potentially pick up in a district that has been held by Republicans for quite some time,” Mallinson said.
One other dynamic is at play this year: Pennsylvania voters can no longer vote a straight party ticket.
In the past, they could cast a ballot for all of a party’s candidates, by filling in a bubble or, as it used to be done, pulling a lever.
But a provision of the election code reform measure that passed last fall eliminated that option, meaning Pennsylvania voters will have to examine each candidate a little longer before making their final choice
Mallinson says the loss of that assurance from party faithful means both Perry and DePasquale will have to stand on their own merits.
“It’s the president that’s at the top, and that shapes who votes and who turns out,” he said.
“But it’s not automatically the case anymore that somebody casting a vote for Biden just votes for all the Democrats or likewise for President Trump and the Republicans.”
The way the district is now drawn will be perhaps the biggest factor of all.
The circumstances mean Perry is trying to win over enough moderate voters in the less-Republican district, while holding Trump-era conservative views. At the same time, DePasquale is aiming his pitch at those same moderate voters, while counting on a larger number of Democrats.
As the campaign comes down to its final weeks, the key for both candidates is to find the message that resonates best in a divided district.
The candidates are scheduled to debate for a second time on Monday evening.
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