Pa. Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is running for Congress, and here’s why

“I don’t think our country’s working right. And the challenge of trying to fix that is something I think I’m more up to now."

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale hosted a public hearing on how the state is responding to climate change on Penn State's University Park campus on March 14, 2019. It's the first of three hearings DePasquale plans. (Min Xian/WPSU)

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale hosted a public hearing on how the state is responding to climate change on Penn State's University Park campus on March 14, 2019. It's the first of three hearings DePasquale plans. (Min Xian/WPSU)

This PennLive article appeared on PA Post.

Eugene DePasquale wants a new Congressman.

That, the second-term state Auditor General tells you, is at the root of his decision to make a race for the U.S. House of Representatives from Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District his next political act.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Following months of speculation, DePasquale, a Democrat from North York, told PennLive he is running for Congress. He expects to formally enter the race this week, taking on incumbent Rep. Scott Perry, a Republican from Carroll Township, York County, who is currently in his fourth term. The district includes Dauphin County and parts of York and Cumberland counties; it includes the cities of Harrisburg and York.

A battle between DePasquale and Perry – assuming both win their respective primaries – shapes up as one of the most hotly-contested races in the state. It’s a race that conceivably could gain national attention as Democrats look to flip GOP seats and expand their majority in the House.

Perry, who just survived a strong “Blue Wave” challenge in 2018 in a district that was significantly recast through the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s landmark redistricting ruling earlier that year, is expected to seek another term.

DePasquale, meanwhile, is something of a dream candidate for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He’s the winner of two statewide races, a one-time York County state legislator and a guy who is legitimately on the short list of names of potential future Democratic gubernatorial candidates.

He spoke with PennLive last week about why, for now, he’s focusing on Congress.

First and foremost, DePasquale said, he doesn’t like the representation he’s seeing from Perry, a member of the arch-conservative Freedom Caucus in the U.S. House. And he thinks, after six years in the Pennsylvania House and eight years as auditor general, that he’s got the chops to do something about it.

“All you have to do is look at what’s happening in Washington D.C. today,” DePasquale said in a Friday interview. “I don’t think our country’s working right. And the challenge of trying to fix that is something I think I’m more up to now.

“In my mind and in my heart, I think I’m a better leader now than when I walked into this office… and I think that that can be helpful in trying to move the country forward.”

And yes, he believes that Perry is partly at fault.

To DePasquale, Perry – holder of the most conservative voting record in Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation, according to the American Conservative Union – has become too entrenched in a bloc of Republicans identified with obstruction. In DePasquale’s view, Perry’s adherence to philosophical principles is so great that they aren’t giving government a fair chance to work. PennLive attempted to reach Perry for this story but was not successful.

DePasquale’s campaign will stress a record of pragmatism that, he says, as auditor general has all about getting government to work better, whether it is the processing of backlogged rape kits or making sure someone is personally answering calls reporting suspected child abuse cases.

“My style has always been, let’s try to find a way to make good things happen,” DePasquale said.

DePasquale told PennLive that if he’s successful, he plans to seek more than one term in Congress.

George Scott, the 2018 Democratic nominee, formally took himself out of the running on Friday. But DePasquale will have opposition in the Democratic primary.

He will have to get past Dauphin County attorney Tom Brier, who announced his campaign for the seat this winter and raised an impressive $100,000 in the first quarter of this year, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Republican Pa. Congressman Scott Perry. (Matt Slocum/AP Photo)

GOP Congressman Scott Perry, who represents Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District.

There are a number of realpolitik factors at work in DePasquale’s decision to run for the House.

1) Without the court-ordered redistricting of 2018, it’s a safe bet that this candidacy would never have existed.

The Congressional district lines as laid out by the Pennsylvania General Assembly and Gov. Tom Corbett after the 2010 census had made South Central Pennsylvania a dead-zone for Democratic congressional candidates.

But the new court-imposed maps have changed all that.

In 2018, George Scott gave Perry all he could handle in a race that proved far closer than many professional analysts expected at the start of the cycle. The 2018 contest demonstrated to DePasquale and others that the new 10th doesn’t have to be written off as safe Republican.

2) DePasquale, after 2020, will need a new job.

Supporters encouraged him to consider the 10th District race two years ago, but having just begun his second term as auditor general, he wasn’t that ready to ponder his future.

Now, of course, DePasquale is facing a hard term-limit, so he has had to start thinking about the next thing. And if that means a run in 2020, that pretty much means making a decision now.

3) There are more top-tier Democrats eyeing higher office in Pennsylvania than there are higher offices.

DePasquale is already at a level on the political food chain where there are really only two higher statewide offices to target: Governor and the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., a Democrat from Scranton, just began his third term this year. And there are plenty of Democrats who could contend for the other Senate seat – held by Republican Sen. Pat Toomey – and the governor’s office.

The list of appealing and ambitious Democrats includes those who have already won statewide races: Attorney General Josh Shapiro; Lt. Gov. John Fetterman; and state Treasurer Joe Torsella.

Plus there are several new Democratic Congressmen who could want to run for the senate or governor’s office in a few years, such as Reps. Madeleine Dean of Montgomery County, Chrissy Houlahan from Chester County and Conor Lamb of Allegheny County.

“He (DePasquale) would certainly have been in the mix for one of those offices, but it’s a crowded field,” noted Marty Marks, a Pittsburgh-based Democratic political consultant.

By running for Congress, DePasquale has created some more room for himself and his potential rivals. And at 47, he’s still got a long horizon to think about other offices.

4) There should be ample support.

“DePasquale is a huge recruit, and his decision to enter the race instantly elevates the 10th District into one of the top Democratic pick-up opportunities in the country,” said one Washington-based Democratic strategist who asked not to be identified for this story.

And that means, quite likely, DePasquale will see more funding help than he’s ever had as a candidate for a down-ballot state race in a presidential campaign cycle.

Add it all up, and DePasquale is back on the campaign trail.

Like most people, DePasquale has seen highs and lows in his life. His just seem to have been a little more extreme than most of us.

Raised in Pittsburgh, where his grandfather was a longtime Pittsburgh city councilman, DePasquale was a high school athlete who helped lead his Pittsburgh Central Catholic football team to a PIAA state championship in 1988.

He went on to the College of Wooster in Ohio, graduating in 1993. He was working on a master’s degree in public administration at Pitt when he got this life-altering jolt of news in 1995: His Dad, Alfred, had been arrested on drug-trafficking charges.

Alfred DePasquale ended up serving more than eight years in federal prison. The good news there is that he has successfully rehabilitated, and is currently the co-owner of a real estate development company in Pittsburgh.

Three years later, Eugene lost his brother Anthony to muscular dystrophy.

DePasquale, a divorced father of two who’s lived in central Pennsylvania continuously since coming here for law school at Widener in the late 1990s, says those experiences keep him grounded. He said they have informed his world view on issues such as criminal justice reforms, drug addiction and the value of having health insurance cover pre-existing conditions.

Taken together with his last 12 years in public office, DePasquale said he feels ready, willing and able to take this next step.

“This is really about me believing Washington D.C. needs to be shaken up, and that this is the right time for my style of leadership,” DePasquale said.

But the flip side of the 2018 race is that people found out, after years of cruising to re-election with ease, Perry can be a formidable candidate in a tight contest with. And the 10th is still a district that gave President Donald Trump a 9.4-percentage-point win over Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2016.

Unlike 2018, Perry will be running in a presidential election year as Trump seeks a second term. If Trump boosts Republican turnout in the 10th District, Perry could benefit.

So nothing is guaranteed.

But DePasquale, who loves competition in all its forms and lists as his top personal hobby participating in “Spartan” obstacle course races, says he’s ready for it.

“It should be hard to get to be an elected member of Congress,” he said Friday. “It should be competitive, and I relish that challenge.”

PennLive and The Patriot-News are partners with PA Post.

WHYY is your source for fact-based, in-depth journalism and information. As a nonprofit organization, we rely on financial support from readers like you. Please give today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal