Saidel out, Boyle up, Margolies likely in congressional scrum

    Seems like I just hung up the phone after listening to former City Controller Jonathan Saidel tell me what great prospects he had for winning the congressional seat Allyson Schwartz is giving up to run for governor.

    Actually it was a couple of weeks ago, but now, just like that, he’s out.  That leaves state Rep. Brendan Boyle as the only Philadelphian running for the city-suburban seat, and thus the pick of Philadelphia Democratic Chairman U.S. Rep. Bob Brady.

    But just as significant — maybe more — is the increasingly likely candidacy of former Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies, who held the 13th Congressional District seat nearly 20 years ago.

    Two other Montgomery County candidates are already in — state Sen. Daylin Leach and physician Valerie Arkoosh.

    And, geez, the primary is still more than a year away.

    Shifting political terrain

    What made Saidel, a veteran public official with longstanding ties in the Philadelphia part of the district, bail so quickly?

    He didn’t return my call, but I see two explanations: One is that Boyle outmaneuvered him, working quickly to get a bunch of Philadelphia labor endorsements that Saidel would have sought.

    Boyle is an impressive young politician. I watched him set his sights on a Northeast Philadelphia legislative district and knock on doors until he won it. He’s now in his third term. I wouldn’t sell him short.

    But there’s another factor at work, and that’s the prospect of Margolies running to win the seat she lost in 1994 in an election that earned her a lot of respect in national Democratic circles.

    Margolies won the 13th Congressional seat in 1992 when it was a Montgomery County district, and lost it after one term because she supported President Bill Clinton’s 1993 deficit-reduction plan, which included a tax increase.

    She could now run as the rare politician who’s proved she’ll go to Washington to do the right thing, whatever the political cost. She should get plenty of support from the Clinton family, since she staked her seat to help him win a close and critical Congressional vote back in the day.

    And there’s another reason she can count on the Clintons going all-in for her: Her son is married to Chelsea Clinton.

    Oh, yeah.

    How much does it matter? A lot, potentially.

    Her traditional following is in the suburban part of the district, but the Clintons are wildly popular in Philadelphia. And there’s the fundraising potential — practically beyond measure. That could make her the only candidate in the primary with the cash for broadcast TV ads in this very expensive market.

    In other words, she could be the candidate who jumps in and splashes everybody else out of the pool. I’m hearing she plans to run. She tells me the question is premature, but admits she’s considering it.

    On the other hand

    There’s always another hand, right?

    If Margolies is in, Boyle could be the only candidate from Philadelphia (with more than half the district’s Democratic voters), while you might have three or more suburbanites contending for the Montco vote.

    And while Clinton is popular in the city, there could be another consideration, Boyle partisans say. If Hillary wants to run for president in 2016, the family might think twice about irritating Philadelphia union and political leaders by big-footing in a party primary and undermining their candidate.

    Still, you have to think Margolies’ family ties to the Clintons count for a lot here.

    One other thing to remember: While money and backing matter, the candidate has to have what it takes — a message that resonates, some skill and charisma on the stump, the ability to recruit a good team, and the work ethic and stamina of a marathon runner.

    Leach and Arkoosh are no slouches and they say they’re in to the finish.

    This will be one to watch.


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