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Dems jockey over new Montco congressional seat

State Sen. Daylin Leach's possible candidacy in Pa's Fourth Congressional District is alarming some Democrats.

State Sen. Daylin Leach, pictured in 2014, is considering running in the Fourth Congressional District.
State Sen. Daylin Leach, pictured in 2014, is considering running in the Fourth Congressional District.Read moreSteven M. Falk / Staff Photographer

Montgomery County Democrats, having chafed for years at a congressional map that sliced and diced their suburban base, are thrilled the congressional map imposed Monday by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court created a single district that represents almost 90 percent of the county.

Before the map ink dried on the newly configured Fourth Congressional District boundaries, the jockeying had begun.

Some Democrats were bracing for a possible Montgomery County campaign by State Sen. Daylin Leach, who took a "step back" from his campaign for a different congressional seat in December amid allegations by former staffers of unwelcome touching and sexually charged comments. Leach, who has vowed to change his behavior, said Tuesday he would take the weekend to make a decision about a House bid.

"I've learned an awful lot about the #MeToo movement," Leach said, describing himself as a longtime "champion of women's rights."

Some Democrats privately say the allegations make him a less-than-ideal messenger at this time, and threaten to divert resources from other races where the party's natural demographic advantage is weaker.

To that end, some Democrats are trying to persuade State Rep. Madeleine Dean, who's currently campaigning in a crowded primary for lieutenant governor, to run in the Fourth. State Rep. Mary Jo Daley also announced her candidacy Tuesday, as did prominent gun-control advocate Shira Goodman.

Political observers were also waiting to see if U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle, who represented a portion of Montgomery County under the old map, will seek the newly formed House seat. He instead could run in the city's Second District, which includes his longtime political base in Northeast Philadelphia as well as his home address. Boyle's office on Tuesday wouldn't divulge his plans.

Under the previous map, pieces of Montgomery County were parceled into five different House districts, including those now held by Democrats Boyle and Dwight Evans, and by Republicans Pat Meehan, Brian Fitzpatrick, and Ryan Costello.

To be competitive in the May 15 primary, whoever runs will need to be able to quickly raise money to circulate petitions, get on the ballot, and win party support.

Jim Saring, executive director of the Montgomery County GOP, said the party was waiting to see if the courts would throw out the map. "We're basically in a holding pattern now," he said, adding that no Republicans have yet declared for the new district.

Democrats carried at least 54 percent of the two-party vote in all statewide elections in 2016 in the geographic area now comprising the Fourth District.

Leach and Dean have the resources to compete, in part because they had already launched campaigns. Leach, a King of Prussia resident well-known in a county he has represented in Harrisburg since 2003, raised $540,000 last year and had $180,000 on hand as of Dec. 31.

Dean, of Jenkintown, and her husband lent $100,000 to her campaign for lieutenant governor. But the state representative is an underdog in a six-candidate primary that includes the incumbent, Mike Stack of Philadelphia. Dean could repay herself that previous campaign loan and then use the money to jump-start a congressional bid in which she has a better shot.

Dean's campaign didn't respond to a request for comment, but people familiar with her thinking said she's considering the idea.

Of the declared candidates, Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, said she was "tired of the weak politicians in Washington offering thoughts and prayers while they turn a blind eye to the murder of our children." Daley, the state representative, called for "true progressive leadership."

One high-profile local elected official who won't run: Valerie Arkoosh, chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.

"I'm very much looking forward to governing this county with a full-time partner in Washington," she said.

Staff writer Jonathan Lai contributed to this article.