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In 3 local House races, accusations of carpetbagging

WASHINGTON - When Kevin Strouse moved to Bucks County last year to launch his campaign as a Democrat for Congress, national Republicans sent mocking welcome gifts, including a Phillies hat, tourism brochures, and a street map.

(From left to right) Manan Trivedi, Kevin Strouse and Tom MacArthur.
(From left to right) Manan Trivedi, Kevin Strouse and Tom MacArthur.Read more

WASHINGTON - When Kevin Strouse moved to Bucks County last year to launch his campaign as a Democrat for Congress, national Republicans sent mocking welcome gifts, including a Phillies hat, tourism brochures, and a street map.

In Chester County, Republicans have attacked Democratic congressional candidate Manan Trivedi for not living in his district and earning the vast majority of his income as a doctor and medical consultant from sources in Washington.

And in South Jersey, Democrat Aimee Belgard has assailed Republican nominee Tom MacArthur for only months ago moving in from North Jersey. "Tom is new to the area and there's a lot he has to learn about South Jersey," she said in her first press release of the general election.

Together, the three most competitive House races in the Philadelphia region all feature accusations of carpetbagging.

But will the critiques resonate with voters?

Political analysts and operatives offer split opinions.

"It's not a paramount issue," said Julie Roginsky, a Democratic political consultant from New Jersey. "Voters care about how a candidate is going to affect their bottom line."

Values, she said, matter more than roots - though sometimes the two go hand-in-hand. Someone who grew up in suburban New Jersey could reasonably claim to understand a place like Bucks County, Roginsky said, but not rural Mississippi.

By law, House candidates only have to live in the state where they are running, not in the actual district.

Carpetbagger attacks can work if they are tied to a deeper flaw, Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray said: "If it's not just the fact that they have been living outside of the district, but that they have been doing something that undermines their credibility."

The accusations arise around the country every election - and often fail.

Hillary Rodham Clinton won a New York Senate seat a year after moving there. Democrat Patrick Murphy faced accusations of being an outsider in Bucks County in 2006 but won a House seat anyway. This year, Republican Scott Brown is campaigning for Senate in New Hampshire despite representing Massachusetts just 18 months ago, and questions about residency have been raised in current House contests in New York, Indiana, and Alabama.

In Bucks County, Republicans paint Strouse's recruitment by national Democrats as evidence that he would be a pawn of the party establishment - even as he tries to unseat an incumbent, Mike Fitzpatrick.

"Strouse's only connection to Pennsylvania's Eighth District began last year," said Ian Prior, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee.

Strouse grew up in Delaware County, served as an Army Ranger in Afghanistan and Iraq, and then worked as a CIA counterterrorism officer in Washington before moving to Bucks to run for Congress. He registered to vote there in March 2013, two weeks before launching his campaign.

Strouse's campaign pointed to his military service.

"If Congressman Fitzpatrick wants to have a conversation about who has done more to serve our country, we're happy to have that discussion," wrote Strouse spokesman Brendan McPhillips.

In the race for a Chester County-based seat, Republicans have used Trivedi's Washington income to question his credibility.

Trivedi says he lives and raises his children in a Birdsboro home just outside the Sixth District. Financial disclosure forms show that he made $228,000 from medical facilities or consulting firms based in Washington or the surrounding area in 2013 and early 2014.

Trivedi's wife works in Washington and the couple own a home there. Trivedi made $10,812 from a Pottstown medical clinic in that time.

"It is clear he does not live here," said Vince Galko, a spokesman for Trivedi's Republican opponent, Ryan Costello, a Chester County commissioner. "He only shows up in Pennsylvania at election time."

Trivedi's campaign declined to comment on the source of his income but stressed that he was born and raised in Berks County - part of which remains in the district - and returned after serving in the Navy. When he first ran for Congress, in 2010, his Birdsboro home was in the district but the next year was sliced out in GOP-led redistricting.

When similar questions about his Washington income were raised during another run in 2012, Trivedi said his employers there pay more than those in Pennsylvania, accounting for the disparity.

Voters are more concerned with "how out of touch career politicians like Ryan Costello are when it comes to their economic future," wrote Trivedi spokesman Daren Berringer.

In South Jersey, the battle for the Third District in Burlington and Ocean Counties shows how both parties are willing to use "outsider" attacks.

In 2012, Republicans there attacked Democrat Shelley Adler's residency - her Cherry Hill home had been cut out in redistricting - even though she had long-standing ties to the district and her late husband, John Adler, held the seat in 2007 and 2008.

This year, however, Republicans are supporting MacArthur, who until a few months ago was mayor of Randolph, a Morris County town 90 miles north of his new home in the district.

Democrats have used MacArthur's North Jersey background to argue that the multimillionaire former insurance executive cannot understand the average, middle-class South Jerseyan.

MacArthur's campaign points out that he has owned a house in Ocean County for more than eight years and has been active in a local church and charities - though the Long Beach Island home isn't in the congressional district where he's running.

MacArthur said his family had planned to move south after their children graduated from high school.

When incumbent Rep. Jon Runyan, a Republican, announced in November that he wouldn't run again, the open seat "moved up the timetable a little bit for me; it didn't change our plans," MacArthur said in an April interview.

His website describes him as "a local mayor" without mentioning the name of the town.

Each race may be different. Circumstances matter, said Charlie Gerow, a Republican consultant from Pennsylvania.

"Did they move in simply to run for office?" he asked. "Or did they move in to get involved in the community?"

Outsiders may be OK, but not opportunists.