A New Nominee; Another Retirement

By Jim Ellis

Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh)

Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh)

Nov. 15, 2017 — Though almost all of the weekend political media coverage focused on the Alabama Senate campaign and the sexual impropriety allegations against former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore (R), over 800 miles from the heart of Dixie another group of Republicans was choosing a nominee to fill a US House vacancy.

In late October, yet another sex scandal-tainted political figure, Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pittsburgh), succumbed to the pressure against him and announced that he would resign from the House. Quickly, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) called the special election to fill the new vacancy for March 13. Each 18th District political party organization then had the responsibility of meeting in convention to choose their respective congressional nominee.

On Saturday, 215 Republican conferees from the CD’s four counties decided among three candidates, all members of the Pennsylvania legislature. An additional state representative, Jason Ortitay (R-Bridgeville), originally announced that he, too, would stand for nomination but decided the morning of the convention to withdraw.

The three competitors were from the state level — senators Guy Reschenthaler (R-Bethel Park), and Kim Ward (R-Greensburg), along with state Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Elizabeth/ Jefferson Hills). The latter man dropped out of the US Senate race to enter this special election US House campaign.

Sen. Ward fell on the first ballot, sending Reschenthaler and Saccone to a second vote. Saccone would then prevail 123 to 91, thus awarding him the nomination and sending him to the general election.

Rick Saccone was elected to the legislature in 2010, after a career in the US Air Force and counterintelligence. As part of the diplomatic corps, the new congressional nominee spent time assigned to North Korea, and claimed to be the only US citizen residing in the country during the period he was there.

For the past several months, Rep. Saccone had been campaigning for the US Senate nomination, but not enjoying much success. He raised only $71,000 for the Senate race, ending his effort with $51,000 in the bank. Now he will need to develop his campaign treasury for the March special election, something that should be readily achievable in a safe Republican district where President Trump scored a 58-37 percent victory and Mitt Romney recorded a 58-41 percent spread four years earlier. Rep. Murphy averaged 72 percent of the vote over eight campaigns, dropping below 60 percent only once and twice being unopposed.

The Democrats will choose their candidate on Nov. 19. Seven individuals are competing for the party nomination including Westmoreland County Commissioner Gina Cerilli, former Pennsylvania State Teacher’s Union president Mike Crossey, and Pam Iovino, a retired Navy captain who served as an assistant secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Rep. Gene Green to Retire

Texas Democratic Congressman Gene Green (D-Houston/Pasadena), who has represented a majority Hispanic district for 13 terms in the House, announced late Monday that he will not seek re-election.

Green becomes the sixth Texas incumbent to leave the House, and the second Democrat. Last week, Reps. Jeb Hensarling (R-Dallas), Ted Poe (R-Atascocita/Houston), and Lamar Smith (R-San Antonio) each said that they will also bring their congressional careers to an end. The looming Dec. 11 candidate filing deadline has forced members and candidates to make a final decision about running in 2018. Earlier in the year, Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Plano) announced his retirement after what will be 28 years in Congress, while Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) declared his US Senate candidacy.

Green has faced little in the way of challenges during his long congressional tenure. His last relatively competitive campaign actually came recently when he defeated former Houston Sheriff and City Councilman Adrian Garcia, 57-39 percent, in the 2016 Democratic primary. Garcia had already announced that he would run again in 2018, and now will assuredly move forward in an open seat situation. We can expect several other Democrats to jump into the race now that Green has made his political intentions known.

The 29th District of Texas is a Houston-anchored CD, stretching around the downtown metropolitan area to capture a large percentage of the city’s Hispanic precincts. The district’s population is 77 percent Hispanic, just over 10 percent African American, and 2.2 percent Asian. The electorate voted 71 percent for Hillary Clinton and 66 percent for President Obama in his 2012 re-election campaign. We can expect a crowded Democratic primary that will likely culminate in a run-off election. The Texas primary is March 6, with any necessary secondary vote scheduled for May 22.

Rep. Green’s retirement brings the regular election open seat count to 35, 11 of which are Democratic seats. The aforementioned PA-18 special election is not included in that total because the new incumbent will immediately seek re-election in the regular cycle.

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