Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick easily prevailed in Tuesday’s Republican primary, the Associated Press projected Wednesday, fending off an opponent who cast him as a liberal traitor to the GOP while representing a moderate district where Democrats hold a majority in voter registration.
The question now: Will the national Democratic Party and its allies mount a serious campaign to seize the 1st Congressional District seat, which covers Bucks County and part of Montgomery County, in the Nov. 3 general election?
Democrat Christina Finello, an Ivyland Borough Council member, won her two-candidate primary. But she begins the general election campaign trailing Fitzpatrick in resources and name recognition.
Fitzpatrick, who laid low on primary election day, issued a statement Wednesday, saying “it is imperative that we come together as one community to save our nation from the divisive politics that is tearing our country apart.”
Meanwhile, the National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm for House Republicans, praised him as a “bipartisan problem solver,” while knocking Finello for her “abysmal fundraising and minimal chance at victory.”
In the Lehigh Valley-based 7th District, Lisa Scheller, CEO of a manufacturing company, defeated former Lehigh County Commissioner Dean Browning in the Republican primary, the Associated Press projected. Scheller, who was backed by House GOP leadership, will run against first-term Democratic Rep. Susan Wild in the general election.
The terrain in Bucks County has been tricky for Fitzpatrick, a former FBI agent seeking a third term who wrote in Mike Pence’s name for president in 2016. He told The Inquirer last month he will wait until the general election to decide if he will vote for President Donald Trump.
Fitzpatrick was leading 57% to 43% with 99% of votes counted Wednesday.
His “equivocation” on Trump pushed Fred Berkobin of Doylestown to support his GOP rival, investment-firm owner Andrew Meehan.
“I know he’s more conservative than Fitzpatrick and that’s good enough for me,” Berkobin said after voting Tuesday.
Meehan, a rabble-rousing Trump fan, attacked Fitzpatrick as insufficiently loyal to the party and the president. But Meehan drew no support from Trump. And he inspired ire from the Bucks County Republican Party.
Still, his criticism rang true to some Republican voters.
“I’m a nurse. I think Trump is doing a phenomenal job," said Debbie Colby of Yardley, who voted for Meehan but didn’t know much about his campaign before Tuesday. “I knew I would not vote for Fitzpatrick.”
Fitzpatrick always held the upper hand in campaign resources, reporting $1.7 million in the bank in mid-May.
He has a history of disagreeing with Trump. But voters didn’t hear much of that from him as the primary approached.
Fitzpatrick used Facebook advertising to link himself closely to legislation signed into law by Trump and to tout support from conservative Republican leaders in Congress. He greeted Air Force One during Trump’s recent visit to the state, and spent $23,334 on Fox News campaign commercials that synced with Trump’s messaging on China when it comes to the economy and the coronavirus pandemic. He also echoed Trump’s rhetoric on Twitter about the civil unrest gripping the country, calling for the loosely-defined “Antifa” to be designated a terrorist group.
Meehan reported his campaign was $16,000 in debt at the end of March and did not file updated reports since then, according to the Federal Elections Commission. Meehan spent $2,256 on radio commercials, according to the ad-tracking firm Advertising Analytics.
Jon DeAndrea, of Richland, supported Fitzpatrick despite misgivings about his record and his refusal to debate Meehan. He saw Meehan’s campaign singularly focused on Trump. And that didn’t work for him.
“I’m not that much of a Trump supporter,” he said. “I like Trump — the policies, not necessarily Trump, the man.”
Finello, who served as deputy director of the county housing and human services department, won the endorsements of the Democratic Parties in Bucks and Montgomery Counties. She dominated in fund-raising for her primary, showing $82,497 in the bank as of mid-May.
She defeated Skylar Hurwitz, a tech consultant from New Hope, who raised about $18,500.
Finello, in declaring victory, vowed that the “middle-and-working class people of our country will be my priority.”
Susan and Curt Sabate, of Yardley, voted for Finello. Like many voters in the district, they see themselves as moderates but feel pulled to the left by the rising rancor of national politics.
“The divisiveness has made us more aligned” with the Democratic Party, said Curt Sabate. “We’re typically centrists. But you just can’t be that way.”
Finello, in her campaign fund-raising pitches, lamented that “the blue wave that swept the country” in 2018 congressional districts had no impact on the 1st District. Fitzpatrick defeated Democrat Scott Wallace that year.
And while she casts the district as a top opportunity to flip a seat, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and other political groups are still largely sitting on the sidelines.
The DCCC, in a statement Wednesday, declared Fitzpatrick a “fake moderate” who “will find himself automatically tied to Trump” and Republican policies.
EMILY’s List, a political organization that helps elect Democratic women, issued a long list of candidates to support Tuesday. Finello’s name was not on it.
-Staff writer Andrew Seidman contributed to this article