Strong field shaping up for Bucks County congressional battle

     Bucks County state Rep. Steven J. Santarsiero (left) and Shaughnessy Naughton, who ran for the 8th Congressional District two years ago. (Image via Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Emma Lee/WHYY)

    Bucks County state Rep. Steven J. Santarsiero (left) and Shaughnessy Naughton, who ran for the 8th Congressional District two years ago. (Image via Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Emma Lee/WHYY)

    There are precious few competitive congressional races anymore, but Pennsylvania’s 8th Congressional District in Bucks County is sure to be a rumble next year, and candidates from both parties are lining up.

    Incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick is sticking to a self-imposed term limit (yes, you read that right) and will not seek re-election.

    Two credible and well-funded Democrats are in the field. 

    Two years ago, political newcomer Shaughnessy Naughton narrowly lost the Democratic primary to Kevin Strouse, and she’s back to try again. A chemist by training who runs a family publishing business, she says the nation has to get serious about funding education, and she wants to see “an Apollo-level investment in science and technology, so we can grow and create the jobs and industries of tomorrow as well as deal with pressing issues like climate change.”

    Also in the race is state Rep. Steve Santarsiero, a guy with an interesting story.

    He was a successful lawyer who watched the Twin Towers collapse from his office window in 2001 and decided he had to do something of more civic value.

    He became a high school teacher in Bensalem, and got involved in community issues in Lower Makefield Township.

    In 2003, he ran for township supervisor as a Democrat in GOP territory, and won by appealing to his Republican friends.

    “At a time when there were many more Republicans than Democrats, I needed to have that support in order to win,” Santarsiero said. “And candidly, I needed that support to win my state house seat.”

    In the Legislature since 2009, he’s focused among other things on campaign finance reform.

    Santarsiero has the backing of a bunch of labor unions and many county Democratic leaders. Naughton has the support of former Gov. Ed Rendell and the national feminist group Emily’s List, which can tap a national donor base for her.

    The latest campaign finance reports show Naughton with about $441,000 on hand, Santarsiero with about $332,000.

    A Republican fight?

    I’ve never seen stats on it, but it’s commonly understood that Democrats are more likely to have contested primaries than Republicans.

    Conventional wisdom is that a party is better off in the general election if its politicians don’t deplete their war chests tearing each other up in a primary fight, and instead unite to win in November.

    Republicans are just somehow better at that.

    But this time, Bucks County Republicans are far from decided on who should succeed Fitzpatrick on the ticket.

    Seven-term state Rep. Scott Petri is running, as is former County Commissioner Andrew Warren.

    But they may not be the only ones. County Republican Party chairwoman Pat Poprik told me six other potential candidates have contacted her. She doesn’t discourage anyone, she said, but she tells them they’ll have to make their case to party activists at a series of regional caucuses.

    “Usually, at least in my experience, by the last caucus several of them know they’re not going to stay in,” she said, “and they kind of weed themselves out.”

    Poprik declined to identify the hopefuls, but said there were some recognizable names in the pack.

    We’ll see if Republicans settle things without a fight. If not, they’ll have a contested primary when their voters may also be picking from Donald Trump and who-knows-who in the presidential primary.

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