Scientist, combat veteran compete for Democratic nod in Pa.’s 8th District

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 Small business owner Shaugnessy Naughton (left) and former Army Ranger Kevin Strouse face off in the Democratic primary in the 8th Congressional District. (Naughton image by Emma Lee/WHYY, Strouse image via KevinStrouse.com)

Small business owner Shaugnessy Naughton (left) and former Army Ranger Kevin Strouse face off in the Democratic primary in the 8th Congressional District. (Naughton image by Emma Lee/WHYY, Strouse image via KevinStrouse.com)

In the Philadelphia suburbs, two political newcomers say they’re ready to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick.

The Democrats are competing to represent residents of Bucks and Montgomery counties in the 8th District.

Shaugnessy Naughton

Some political candidates seem born to run. Others, take a less direct route to politics.

Shaugnessy Naughton of Point Pleasant, Pa., is one who took a meandering path to this point.

“I grew up in Bucks County in a big Irish Catholic family,” she said. “I’m a scientist by training and a small-business owner.”

Naughton is now a candidate in the Democratic primary for the 8th District seat held by Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick.

After training as a chemist, she left her job at Wyeth Pharmaceuticals in Princeton Junction about a decade ago to save her family’s small publishing business in Doylestown.

Naughton said that experience taught her the importance of balancing short-term sacrifice and long-term gain.

“In the short term, we need to get people back to work and invest in an infrastructure plan that will spur the economy and get the economy going again,” she said. “And then, thinking long term, making education a priority so that we have the qualified workforce for tomorrow. And investing in science and technology so we can grow and create the jobs and industries of tomorrow.”

Naughton has been endorsed by former Governor Ed Rendell as well as the Philadelphia Gay News, the country’s oldest LGBT weekly publication and The Philadelphia Inquirer. She also has the backing of the  influential women’s political group EMILY’S List, has attended the group’s sessions that teach women how to run for political office. She said she knows the effect Washington can have on small businesses and middle-class families.

“We know that a quality education is the surest path to middle-class prosperity,” she said. “Right now, we could be loaning to students at lower rates. That’s something the Congress directly decides. And we need to be thinking about our tax policy — both our corporate and individual tax policies — so that we can once again create growth and jobs here in the United States.”

Kevin Strouse

Also running in the Democratic primary is former Army Ranger Kevin Strouse, who lives in Middletown Township. A veteran of three tours in Afghanistan and one in Iraq, Strouse has also worked as an analyst for the CIA.

That experience, he said, shows “I’m willing to make personal sacrifices for the good of the country.”

To help voters get to know him and his lighter side, Strouse has been running an ad showing him having a tea party and playing with soap bubbles with his kids.

While he has worked in a lot of serious positions, he said, “I’m also someone who really cares about his kids, and I’m a family guy … family’s the most important thing to me.”

Strouse currently workers as Program Director for an education non-profit, Teach2Serve, that teaches social entrepreneurship skills to high school students in the region. He said as someone who got help from the GI Bill, Strouse said he’s serious about making college affordable.

Of his run for political office now, the candidate said, he’s always gone where he thought he could make the most difference.

“I’ve always put country and community ahead of myself, and I’ve worked in environments where you have to work through profound disagreements to get things done,” he said. “And I think that is something that’s lacking right now in our Congress.”

Strouse, who has the support of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said he never anticipated he’d make this jump into politics. Frustration with what he calls “a dysfunctional Congress” helped him make the decision.

He has been criticized for donations his parents made to Congressional candidates in other states, while parents of those candidates donated to the Strouse campaign. His campaign has declined to comment on the matter saying the campaign never discusses fundraising.

The winner of this Democratic primary will have a tough fight in the general election. Fitzpatrick, who is trying for his fourth term, is resilient. After losing the seat to Democrat Patrick Murphy in 2008, Fitzpatrick came back to defeat Murphy in 2010.

Fitzpatrick has held the seat since then, beating his last challenger by 13 percentage points.

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