Third candidate emerges to challenge Fattah

    A third candidate seems poised to enter next year’s Democratic primary challenging Philadelphia U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah, who’s facing corruption charges.

    State Rep. Brian Sims, elected by a Center City district in 2012, has formed an exploratory committee and has a fundraiser tomorrow in preparation for a run against the veteran congressman.

    Two other candidates, Philadelphia ward leader Dan Muroff and Lower Merion Township Commissioner Brian Gordon, also are preparing to run.

    It should be an interesting campaign season. I called up Democratic strategist Mark Nevins, who’s worked on many congressional campaigns, to see how he sizes up the race.

    One of the first things he said was that it’s hard for anyone to plot a race in a district that hasn’t had a competitive election in 20 years. Fattah’s served in Pennsylvania’s 2nd Congressional District since 1995.

    “From a strategic standpoint, it will be hard for the challengers to figure out who’s going to vote,” Nevins said. “There’s no road map, no history that tells you who will vote because the district has been so thoroughly dominated by one man for so long.”

    If Fattah does end up running against a field of multiple challengers, Nevins said, that can cut two ways for the upstarts. Since it’s likely no one would get a majority in the primary, ya candidate can win with fewer voters.

    “However, it also means that the opposition vote, the vote of people who are looking to make a change, gets divided among multiple candidates,” Nevins said. So it may be more likely Fattah will prevail, even though he’s running under federal indictment.

    The indictment itself presents a challenge for the challengers, Nevins added.

    It’s their strongest issue, but to win, they’ll have to get votes from people who’ve supported Fattah for years. Some might rally to him if he argues that he’s being unfairly targeted by people who just want him out.

    “It’s a real balancing act,” Nevins said, “and I think they’re going to have figure out what the narrow path is to say just enough without alienating the voters they need.”

    Sims hasn’t returned my calls, which I understand. He wants to announce his candidacy at a time and setting of his choosing. But one question I wanted to ask is whether he lives in the district, and, if not, if he plans to move in.

    The address for Sims in the state’s 2014 candidate database is three blocks outside the district. A member of Congress isn’t required to live in his district, but it’s not the kind of issue you’d want to hand your opponent, especially a 20-year incumbent who’ll paint you as a outsider who doesn’t know the needs of the district.

    Sims has some game. He’s a well-spoken campaigner who can bring a national fundraising base with him. He got contributions from all over the country when he ran for state representative in 2012 as an openly gay candidate (and knocked off a 28-year incumbent).

    On the other hand, there’s the fact that Sims and the other two likely candidates are white, in a majority black district, represented by one of the most tenured African-Americans in Congress.

    I keep hearing that state Rep. Dwight Evans is likely to run, but he isn’t returning my calls either.

    Like I said, it’s going to be an interesting campaign season.

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