Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Will Bucks County Democrats choose a millionaire, a veteran or an environmentalist for congressional nominee?

In the Democratic primary race for the First Congressional District U.S. House seat, voters face a choice between pragmatism and party messaging as they choose a nominee in a district crucial to the party's drive to flip the U.S. House from red to blue this fall.

Congressional candidates (L-R) Rachel Reddick, Steve Bacher and Scott Wallace at a forum in Bucks County.
Congressional candidates (L-R) Rachel Reddick, Steve Bacher and Scott Wallace at a forum in Bucks County.Read moreMark C Psoras

In the Democratic primary race for the First District U.S. House seat, voters face a choice between pragmatism and party messaging as they choose a nominee in a district crucial to the party's drive to flip the House from red to blue this fall.

Democrats will have to decide whether Scott Wallace, a self-funded millionaire who can put plenty of cash into the general election, has a better chance of beating Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick —  a freshman who succeeded his brother, Mike — than Rachel Reddick, a young mother and Navy veteran with a profile that appeals to national Democrats in the "Year of the Woman."

"I think that PA-01 is a pretty good bellwether district of what might be going on in the country. I think if Democrats can flip this, it would indicate Democrats are on their way to flip the House," said Kyle Kondik, an election analyst at the University of Virginia. "It's among a handful of districts around the country that might be most worth watching."

As Wallace, 66, and Reddick, 33, battle it out, Steve Bacher, a little-funded progressive environmentalist, argues he is closest to the heart of the party base.

The Bucks County Democratic Committee and other powerful county Democrats have endorsed Wallace, grandson of former Vice President Henry A. Wallace, who planted the seed to the family fortune. Years before he served under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Henry Wallace founded a company that pioneered hybrid corn seeds, which was sold in 1999 to the DuPont Co. for $10 billion.

Wallace, an attorney, worked on the staff of two U.S. Senate committees early in his career. For the last two decades, he and his wife, Christy, served on the board of the Wallace Global Fund, a philanthropy that fights against climate change and for expanded voting rights. Wallace has also given a lot of money to Democratic candidates and causes.

He was planning to do the same in the First District (Eighth District before the redistricting). But when none of the Bucks County Democrats he favored agreed to run, Wallace  left the Washington area, where the foundation is based, moved back to the home where he grew up in central Bucks, and filed to run.

“I thought this race was one of the most critically important to retake the House,” he said. “Jumping into the water myself was never on my to-do list, but it became absolutely inevitable and something I had to do in these crazy times we had come into.”

Wallace has put up more than $2 million of his own money and has been labeled a carpetbagging millionaire seeking to buy office. Political analysts warn that if the Democrats select Wallace as the nominee, it could backfire in November.

"If Wallace prevails on May 15, this is a place where Republicans could conceivably save a 'Clinton district' by disqualifying the Democratic nominee as out of touch," Dave Wasserman, an analyst with the Cook Political Report, wrote last week.

Bucks County Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia, a Democrat whom Wallace recruited to run, said Wallace has been helping underprivileged people through his family's foundation.

"That argument makes no sense," she said of Wallace's being perceived as out of touch to blue-collar Bucks County constituents. Plus, she added: "We just elected someone who is a multimillionaire as president."

Reddick has certainly used his wealth to her advantage. One of her campaign mailers calls Wallace "the Mansplaining Multimillionaire from Maryland."

Reddick, who has been endorsed by EMILY's List, was on active duty for six years, serving in the Judge Advocate General Corps. She continues to serve as an officer in the Naval Reserve.

"She fits the mold that Democrats have been recruiting all over the country. She is a woman and a veteran," Kondik said.

Reddick, too, only recently moved back to Bucks County, after her active-duty career. Until 2016, she was a registered Republican, and her opponents have hit her on it.

Reddick said that she grew up in a Republican family and, as her perspective on life changed,  became a Democrat. She said she voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 and has a selfie with her 2016 absentee ballot showing she voted for Hillary Clinton and every other Democrat.

So far her campaign has raised $400,000, she said.

"People are ready for a change," she said, noting that only men represent Pennsylvania in Washington. "Being young and being a woman in the year of the women… People are ready for equal representation. I know I am."

Bacher, who has lived in the county for 10 years and has raised $50,000, is relying on social media. He thinks his views, such as free tuition at community colleges and public universities and an $18 minimum wage, are resonating.

"We have more in common than that which separates us," he said.

Fitzpatrick also faces a Republican primary opponent, former Assistant District Attorney Dean Malik, who argues the incumbent is not supportive enough of President Trump.

Fitzpatrick's brother lost the seat in 2006, in his first term, when Democrats took over the House. Democrat Pat Murphy replaced him.

Four years later, Mike Fitzpatrick ran again and unseated Murphy  amid a GOP wave. Then in 2016, Brian Fitzpatrick moved  back from California to Bucks County to run for his brother's seat.

Since then, the district has become a little more Democratic in its voting patterns.

"If 2018 is indeed a wave year, the identity of the Democratic primary winner won't matter that much," Kondik said.