Three challengers planning to take on Fitzpatrick in competitive Bucks race

Republican congressman Brian Fitzpatrick of Pa.’s 1st District. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Republican congressman Brian Fitzpatrick of Pa.’s 1st District. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Brian Fitzpatrick is a man “stuck in the middle,” in the words of Terry Madonna, pollster and Director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College.

The primary is still ten months away, but the two-term Republican incumbent in Bucks County’s congressional district already has one challenger in his own party, and two from the Democrats. Registered Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans in the suburban Philadelphia district, although unaffiliated voters more than make up the difference.

On the Republican side, financial planner Andrew Meehan has launched a campaign website which criticizes Fitzpatrick’s voting record as not conservative enough, but which does not list specific topic areas the challenger hopes to focus on himself.

Instead, it favors brief video messages, including one where Meehan refers to Fitzpatrick as a “week knee’d, fake Republican … anti-Trump RINO,” which stands for “Republican In Name Only.”

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There is also a clip from Fox News commentator Jeanine Pirro, criticizing Fitzpatrick and other Republicans who voted “yes” last month on the American Dream and Promise Act of 2019, which would have expanded protections to people in several immigration categories. Meehan is the grandson of former head of the Philadelphia GOP, the late Austin Meehan.

Reached by phone, Andrew Meehan declined to give an interview. He has not formally registered his campaign, but said he plans to be on the ballot next April.

Two Democrats, Bucks County prothonotary Judith Reiss, and Pennsbury School Board member Debra Wachspress, have filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission.

Reiss could not be reached for comment. Wachspress responded to an email, saying she is officially launching her campaign Wednesday evening.

Wachpress’ website describes her as “a working mom and advocate for peace” who is swearing off contributions from political action committees. Her priorities include affordable healthcare, supporting women’s access to reproductive care, addressing climate change, and universal background checks for gun purchases, among others.

Though their campaigns may be young, the contours and challenges of running in the Pennsylvania’s 1st District are well known, said Madonna. In recent years, Democrats have made strides in taking back formerly Republican-held seats in Pennsylvania’s suburban counties, picking up the 5th, 6th and 7th Districts in 2018.

“[This] district is in the bullseye,” said Madonna, of that trend.

Fitzpatrick easily cleared his last primary challenger, attorney Dean Malik, in 2018, who like Meehan ran as a Trump supporter. Fitzpatrick and went on to win a close race against Democrat Scott Wallace, a wealthy philanthropist, who spend more than $11 million of his own fortune in the losing effort.

Fitzpatrick also has more than $466,000 cash in hand, according to the Federal Election Commission. A contact for his campaign declined to give a statement for this story.

In such a politically mixed area where every race is tight, the deciding factor in 2020 could be which party’s voters are more motivated this time around, said Madonna.

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