On a sunny fall morning, Democrat Kevin Strouse stepped to a podium set in front of LOVE Park’s gushing fountain in Philadelphia.
As part of a national bus tour, the first-time candidate had to leave the lines of the 8th Congressional District to campaign about the middle class in Center City.
“That has been the backbone of our economy, that has been the backbone of our society and that has been what has always made our country strong,” said Strouse to a handful of onlookers.
That message has also been the backbone of Strouse’s pitch to voters in Bucks and Montgomery Counties.
The core of his platform -— improving education, infrastructure and the tax code — is aimed at growing the middle class and its quality of life.
“Every person in this country who works ought to get paid a livable wage so that they can support a family, that they can buy a home, they can have a shot at that American Dream,” he said.
Strouse is also pledging to take on congressional gridlock, which shut down the federal government for 16-days last year.
During that dispute, Republicans, including Strouse’s opponent, incumbent Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, insisted that any new spending bill include provisions that chipped away at the Affordable Care Act. They included delaying the mandate that all individuals purchase coverage or face a fine. They also pushed to nix the medical device tax.
Most Democrats strongly opposed the provisions.
For Strouse, a former Army Ranger and CIA counterterrorism analyst, it was maddening to watch.
“Arguments happened and arguments are OK, but we also knew that it was our job to get the work done and that it was always country first,” he said. “For us, we didn’t have the option of missing deadlines. These are military people. You’re potentially putting lives at stake and similar issues in the central intelligence agency, you get that job done.”
Strouse often paints Fitzpatrick as a cog in a broken wheel, as part of the reason why Americans give Congress poor marks in poll after poll after poll.
Fitzpatrick, not surprisingly, takes issue with that. He says he and his colleagues in the House have done their job.
He didn’t mince words during the race’s first debate at WNPV-AM in Lansdale.
“We have passed about 340 bills, many pieces of those legislation were bipartisan, some of them were even unanimous,” said Fitzpatrick. “They then go to the Senate under constitutional rules. There in the Senate, they die.”
If re-elected to a fourth term, Fitzpatrick said he wants to focus on getting good, common sense legislation passed.
A bipartisan bill dealing with Made in America labels and a bill blocking federal funding to schools that knowingly hire or transfer teachers involved in sexual misconduct are among his top priorities.
So is fixing the economy. He said the federal government could do the most good by butting out.
“We have the highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world. Added to that, Pennsylvania has the highest corporate tax rates of all 50 states. Then when you add regulations and rules and laws and paperwork and the burden of all that to a business owner, it makes it very difficult for that business owner to invest, to expand and to be to grow their business — to be able to invest in research and development and invest in their workers,” said Fitzpatrick.
For decades, the Eighth District was a Republican stronghold. That’s no longer the case.
In Bucks County, which comprises most of the district, registered Democrats have outnumbered registered Republicans since 2008. The margin currently sits at more than 12,000.
Polls and experts still say the district is likely to re-elect Fitzpatrick this time around.
The kind of Democratic wave that washed out Republican bids when President Obama won in 2008 — including in the Eighth — isn’t expected.
It’s also an off-year election, which typically doesn’t draw a lot of voters.
In Bucks County, for example, mid-term voting can be as paltry as 15 percent.
That favors Fitzpatrick. The die-hard voters in the district are mostly Republicans.
“Those are the people who, they’re the political junkies, who follow this day after day. I mean, it’s a big part of their life. Everybody else is going to go to work and it’s just going to be a normal day,” said J.D. Mullane, a columnist with the Bucks County Courier Times.
Fitzpatrick has another reason he’ll win.
“I’ve lived in this district my entire life. I wasn’t plucked out of Washington D.C. by a national party, sent here to a district I never lived in and asked to run for Congress,” he said, taking a jab at Strouse who moved to Bucks County last year. Strouse said he relocated because he thought it would be a good place to raise a family. He said his decision to run for Congress came later.
Mullane expects Fitzpatrick to win by at least five percentage points. Two years ago, he won by 13 points.