Dent to leave Congress — another Pa. special election coming

U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa.  (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo)

Allentown Congressman Charlie Dent, who decided in the fall he would not seek another term, now says he’ll leave Congress in a few weeks.

Dent’s announcement Tuesday appears to set up another special election battle in Pennsylvania that’s likely to draw national attention.

Dent, a Republican, was nationally known as a critic of candidate and President Donald Trump and a voice for moderation in an increasingly polarized Congress.

Dent announced his decision to depart before his term ends via Twitter.

“I am especially proud of the work I have done to give voice to the sensible center in our country that is often overlooked or ignored,” Dent wrote. “It is my intention to continue to aggressively advocate for responsible governance and pragmatic solutions in the coming years.”

Dent did not give a reason for his early departure.

Franklin & Marshall College political analyst Terry Madonna said in an interview Dent’s distaste for life in Congress was likely growing.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that Charlie Dent has been fed up with Washington,” Madonna said. “He’s been at odds with President Trump on policy — and certainly on style and personality.”

A political edge?

Depending on how the special election goes, Dent’s move could benefit Republicans in the fall election to a new Congress.

A special election to fill the rest of Dent’s term will occur in the current, Republican-leaning 15th District, which stretches from Harrisburg to the New Jersey border near Easton.

The new 7th District, which is to elect a representative this year is more compact, centered on Lehigh and Northampton counties, and more Democrat-friendly.

There are several candidates who’ve filed to run in the new 7th District who also live within the boundaries of the old 15th; they could run in both elections.

That means the winner of the special election could run as a sitting member of Congress in the fall election to the new district.

Given the boundaries and voting history of the current district, Republicans might have an edge in the special election.

But GOP candidate Rick Saccone managed to lose to Democrat Conor Lamb in a special election last month in a strongly Republican-leaning district in Southwest Pennsylvania.

In a special election, there is no primary. The Republican and Democratic organizations each select a nominee for the ballot.

The Republican candidates in the party primary for the new 7th District, Lehigh County Commissioner Martin Nothstein and former Commissioner Dean Browning, would both be eligible to become the party’s nominee in a special election to the 15th.

[UPDATE: Browning said in a brief phone interview he’s focused entirely on the primary for the 7th District, and won’t think about any other election until that campaign is over.]

Gov. Tom Wolf must issue a writ of election within 10 days of Dent’s departure setting a special election to occur at least 60 days later.

That means the special election for the 15th District can’t occur on the same day as the May 15 primary election for new congressional districts.

So party leaders can see which candidates win their party primaries for the new 7th District, and they can decide if they want to also nominate them for the special election for few remaining months left in the 15th District.

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