7th Congressional primary wide open

Rep. Pat Meehan, R-Pa., with Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, left, work on the markup of the GOP's far-reaching tax overhaul, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Nov. 6, 2017.

With Pennsylvania state Sen. Daylin Leach likely out of the field, Democratic leaders are searching for a new candidate to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan (right) in the 7th Congressional District. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

With Montgomery County state Sen. Daylin Leach’s congressional campaign likely crippled by sexual misconduct allegations, Democratic leaders are looking around for a new candidate to challenge U.S. Rep. Pat Meehan in the 7th Congressional District in Philadelphia’s western suburbs.

Leach has said he’s “stepping back” from the congressional race after allegations appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer, but most analysts think he’s unlikely to mount a viable campaign.

There are four announced candidates in the race besides Leach.

High hopes

2018 could be a great year for Democrats, and party leaders were excited about taking a real run at Meehan, a four-term incumbent.  Leach brought experience, fundraising ability, and name recognition — and was generally considered the Democratic front-runner.

While none are saying it publicly, national and local Democratic leaders are now casting about for a candidate with more name recognition and fundraising capacity.

Among the four candidates other than Leach, two don’t live in the district (it’s not a legal requirement for Congress) and one was Republican before switching her registration last year.

The four are nonetheless determined to run and win.

The field

Molly Sheehan,  a scientist, engineer and mom who calls herself “the only active progressive” in the race, said she’s been building support and believes Leach’s departure could help.

“It particularly opens some new fundraising channels for me since he represents some of the wealthier areas of the district,” Sheehan said. Sheehan lives in Philadelphia now, though she grew up in the suburbs. She said she and her husband are looking for a house and plan to move into the district.

Realtor Elizabeth Moro lives in the district, but switched her registration from Republican to Democrat in 2016. She said she’s been a Republican, Democrat, and independent in the past and helped Delaware U.S. Sen. Chris Coons’ campaign.

She said she has experience and commitment, and she doesn’t think party leaders should be looking for new candidates.

“There’s no need for a search,” she said. “There’s other candidates in the race who have been working hard for the last year, and they deserve respect.”

Dan Muroff is a veteran Democrat who lives in the district and worked on Capitol Hill. He’s the only one besides Leach who’s ever run for office — he ran for Congress two years ago in the 2nd District, which includes parts of Philadelphia and Lower Merion.

He’s the only one of the four candidates who didn’t call on Leach to get out of the race after the sexual misconduct allegations emerged.

No matter who’s in or out, he said he’s focused on what he needs to do.

“We’re raising money, showing up to community events and political events,” he said. “As the adage says, stay in your lane.”

The fourth candidate, Drew McGinty, is an IT specialist who lives in South Philadelphia, outside the district.

He said he has no plans to move into the district at the moment, though he notes he spent his entire life in Montgomery County until he remarried two years ago.

McGinty said he’s best positioned to beat Meehan.

“I’m the only moderate candidate among [the field],” he said, “and it’s going to require a moderate to win the general election.”

Leach has been silent about his plans for more than a week. He could decide to return to active campaigning, and other contenders might appear.

Candidates can start circulating nominating petitions in mid-February. They must be filed by March 6.

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