House candidates scramble for backing in Philly suburbs

The decision by U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.) to not run for another term in his Chester County-based seat has set off the latest maneuvering. (Sharon Gekoski-Kimmel / Inquirer)

This post was reported and written by Inquirer staff writers Chris Palmer and Jonathan Tamari. An abbreviated version appeared in Sunday’s Inquirer:

WASHINGTON -- Two open and competitive congressional seats in the Philadelphia suburbs have opened the door to political struggles based on county loyalty, differing strategies and at least one plain old insurgency.

The decision by U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.) to not run for another term in his Chester County-based seat has set off the latest maneuvering. (We covered the broad picture in the area in this Sunday story).

Ryan Costello, a Chester County commissioner, is expected to announce this week that he will run for Gerlach’s seat.

“I’m very interested,” he said. “If you look at my profile, I have conservative credentials but I have tried my best to be open minded.”

But also interested is the chairman of the county GOP, Val DiGiorgio, setting up a potential battle in the district’s key county.

There has also been talk of a run by Tea Party-aligned Sam Rohrer of Berks County, who has run for governor and Senate, and who could run from the right.

State Sen. John Rafferty, of Montgomery County, is another name in the mix, though top-level Pennsylvania Republicans are unlikely to back a candidate from outside Chester -- which produced 47 percent of the vote in the 2012 House race.

One prominent Republican made the situation clear: “It’s a Chester County seat,” he said, adding, “we cannot afford a primary fight.”

The Democratic picture is also muddled.

Michael Parrish, a businessman and former Army aviator (and ex-Republican), has filed a statement of candidacy with the Federal Election Commission, has started raising money ($100,000 in two weeks, according to fellow Democrats) and is expected to formally announce his run this week.

But the Malvern hopeful might not even have support from his home county's Democratic party.

The Chester County Democratic chair, Michele Vaughn, said she personally prefers Leslie Richards, vice chair of the Montgomery County Commissioners. Vaughn didn't mention Parrish.

“A moderate woman candidate with a successful governing and leadership ability, as well as fundraising ability, would be the strongest candidate,” Vaughn said (though the party organization has not chosen a candidate to back).

Richards confirmed in an interview that she is considering a run. She doesn’t currently live in the district, a factor she acknowledged is a factor in her deliberations.

Richards and Parrish represent two distinct images in a district that stretches from suburbs to rural areas: an ex-military man versus a woman from the suburbs.

Manan Trivedi -- who twice challenged Gerlach --  is also considering a run, said his political aide Daren Berringer and State Sen. Judy Schwank, of Berks, has also been mentioned.

In a contested open seat based in South Jersey, where Republican U.S. Rep. Jon Runyan has also decided to leave Congress, national Democrats have lined up behind Burlington County Freeholder Aimee Belgard.

Republicans hope to avoid an ugly primary, but while party leaders sift through a long list of hopefuls, conservative Steve Lonegan has vowed to run regardless of the organizational pick -- setting up a right vs. centrist conflict.

Democrats are the ones facing a primary fight in Bucks County, where the party is trying to defeat incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick.

Pat Poprik, chairwoman of the Bucks County Republican Committee, believes Fitzpatrick's seat is "very safe" though the district is narrowly divided. This will be Fitzpatrick's final Congressional race: he has self-imposed term limits, and, if elected, has said he would step down after his next term.

Kevin Strouse, a former Army Ranger backed by national Democrats, is competing with Shaughnessy Naughton, a Bucks businesswoman, in a contrast similar to the one shaping up in Chester.

John Cordisco, chairman of the Bucks County Democratic Committee, did not rule out the possibility of having an open primary, saying such an outcome could raise the candidates’ visibility.

“I don’t expect any type of splintering,” he said.

In a South Jersey district stretching from Atlantic City to the Delaware River, Democrats’ national campaign arm is behind Bill Hughes Jr., an attorney and familiar name (his father held the seat for 20 years) but well-known state Sen. Jeff Van Drew is again flirting with a run.

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo, a veteran Republican, is trying to hold a seat that President Obama won by eight points in 2012.

Also competitive is a four-way Democratic primary to succeed U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D., Pa.) in her Montgomery-based district, though the general election there is expected to be easy for Democrats.

— Chris Palmer and Jonathan Tamari

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