Smackdown in Philly-suburban congressional race

    As four Democrats running for the open seat in Pennsylvania’s 13th Congressional District gather for a debate in Northeast Philadelphia this evening, the campaign has intensified.

    We’ve got federal election complaints, attack mailers and plenty of trash talk, with more to come. Here’s a quick look at the four candidates, and where they stand today:

    Marjorie Margolies

    The victory train of this former-front runner with star power has lost steam, if not run off the rails completely. Margolies is a former TV news anchor who held the seat and lost it 20 years ago after casting what Democrats remember as a courageous budget vote. She’s tight with the Clinton family, since her son Marc is married to Chelsea. What could go wrong?

    Plenty. Margolies skipped early candidate debates, then was dogged by Huffington Post stories about the nonprofit she’s run for years. And her campaign somehow managed to spend more money than it raised over the last six months, leaving her dead last in cash on hand among the candidates just as the season of paid media advertising was about to begin.

    Then, last week, one of her rivals, state Sen. Daylin Leach charged she’d violated federal election law by using up all the cash she could legally spend on the primary election and dipping into funds designated for the general. Margolies’ campaign adviser, Ken Smukler, called Leach a “carnival barker” and insisted the campaign had complied with all federal laws, but the charge got attention and carried some punch because of the unusual spending by the Margolies effort. Leach’s formal complaint to the Federal Election Commission won’t be resolved until well after the election.

    Margolies got a moral and financial boost from a visit by former President Clinton earlier this month and has produced a TV ad (above) which showcases another politician from the past — former Philadelphia Mayor and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. But the campaign hasn’t actually bought any time to air it yet. Smukler says it should be up by the end of the week.

    Brendan Boyle

    A Northeast Philadelphia state representative, Boyle has cast himself as the working class populist in the race, charging in his TV ad that he’s running against millionaires. Federal financial disclosure statements show that Leach and Valerie Arkoosh are millionaires, if you include spouses’ assets. Margolies isn’t, but used to be.

    Boyle has been criticized by other candidates for his positions on reproductive rights. He said at a forum I moderated that his views have evolved on the subject, but defended his 2011 vote in favor of a measure imposing new requirements on facilities that provide abortions. Boyle said he joined a lot of Democrats in supporting the measure to make the procedure safer after the Kermit Gosnell scandal.

    As the only Philadelphia candidate in a race against three Montgomery County candidates, Boyle arguably has a geographical advantage in the city-suburban district. But some Philadelphia ward leaders have declined to support him. His campaign finance report shows he had almost $400,000 on hand as of March 31.

    Daylin Leach

    The Montgomery County state senator is a gifted communicator with a record of standing for liberal causes in the Legislature. He’s produced some entertaining campaign videos, and his first TV spot stars his son as a young Daylin being sent into foster care

    He went on the attack against Margolies with his campaign finance complaint, and has sparred with Boyle recently. Boyle challenged candidates to release their tax returns, and Leach released only one year in which he filed separately from his wife, who has assets in excess of $3 million, according to his federal financial disclosure form.

    “It’s ironic that Boyle is focused on Daylin’s wife’s income rather than the women who are suffering because of the clinics that closed due to his efforts,” Leach’s campaign manager Aren Platt told the website PoliticsPA. Leach had $654,000 on had at the end of March.

    Valerie Arkoosh

    This physician with a background in health care reform advocacy is a first-time candidate for office, but you wouldn’t know it from the campaign she’s run. Arkoosh has led the pack in fundraising and began her TV campaign yesterday with an ad featuring her daughter.

    Arkoosh has already sent several mailings to Democrats in the district. One attacks Boyle on reproductive rights, and another accuses Margolies of favoring cuts in Social Security. Smukler correctly notes that the sources cited in Arkoosh mailer are bills and statements from the early ’90s. Margolies said in a recent forum she opposes cuts in benefits or increases in the Social Security retirement age.

    Arkoosh had $687,000 in her campaign fund at the end of March, and her campaign acknowledges she is now putting some personal cash into the effort. The exact amount will be revealed in required campaign finance reports after the primary election.

    Arkoosh also benefits from a $176,000 radio ad campaign funded by the American Society of Anesthesiologists. As an independent expenditure, that campaign must not be coordinated in any way with the Arkoosh operation. One supporting piece of evidence: the announcer in the anesthesiologists’ spot actually mispronounces the candidate’s name. It’s Arkoosh, rhymes with “bush.”

    Who wins?

    There are no independent polls I know of that tell us where the candidates stand, but political pros I’ve spoken to say any of the four could win the May 20 primary. The debate tonight is in Northeast Philadelphia, Boyle’s home turf, but it’s sponsored by veteran Democratic ward leader John Sabatina, who supports Margolies.

    Questions will come from Tom Waring of the Northeast Times, a guy who knows his stuff.

     

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