News

Republican midstate congressman won't seek re-election

Written by Dave Davies/WHYY | Mar 26, 2018 4:59 AM
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FILE PHOTO: In this Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017, file photo, U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, R-Pa., participates in a mock swearing-in ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Zach Gibson, File)

(Philadelphia) -- In a stunning blow to Republicans' efforts to hold onto suburban Congressional seats this year, GOP Representative Ryan Costello has decided to drop his bid for re-election in the 6th Congressional District.

"It's the most difficult decision I can recall having to make, but the answer is I will not be [running for re-election]," Costello told MSNBC.

Costello said balancing his work in Congress while having a young family is "a very challenging job."

"I accepted that and had planned on running for re-election in the district I have served for the past three and a half years," he said. "What happened was the state Supreme Court then, in a matter of a week or so, decided to invalidate the map ... and ultimately, altered the district."

The website City&State PA reported Saturday that unnamed sources said Costello has told Republican leaders he'd withdraw from the May 15 primary, an account confirmed to me by one Republican with ties to the campaign. On Sunday evening, Costello made it official, speaking to several media outlets.

Reasons to bolt

It's understandable that Costello would be less-than-ecstatic about his re-election prospects.

The new congressional boundaries imposed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court brought more Democrats into his district, making his race an uphill climb.

The court re-drew all the state's congressional districts after finding the previous lines constituted an unconstitutional gerrymander to favor Republicans.

Costello's new district includes all of Chester County and parts of Berks County, including Democrat-rich Reading (his previous district had parts of four counties and excluded Reading). Even with the two-term incumbent in the race, national political analysts were calling the general election a toss-up.

The party in a pinch

But Costello's decision to exit the contest at this point puts the Republican Party in a bit of a pickle.

If Costello had decided to quit the race later this spring after winning the GOP primary, the party would be entitled to name a replacement candidate.

If Costello had decided not to run weeks ago, party leaders could have recruited another candidate for the primary.

But the deadline to enter has passed, which means Costello's departure leaves 61-year old tax attorney Greg McCauley as the only Republican on the ballot. It's too late for another candidate to enter.

Party leaders have few options.

They can get behind McCauley, a little-known, first-time candidate.

They could try to talk him into withdrawing and put forward their own candidate, but the new entrant could only run as a write-in candidate. He or she would have to get at least 1,000 votes.

If McCauley is determined to run, party leaders could challenge McCauley's nominating petitions in court, and hope to have him removed from the ballot (a cursory look at McCauley's petitions suggests he may be vulnerable to this). That would still require the party to run a write-in campaign for someone else.

Or they could run their own candidate as a write-in against McCauley and hope to beat him with the party organization.

In any case, finding an exciting candidate with promising fundraising potential willing to take on this challenge at the last minute is a daunting task.

I met McCauley at a Republican candidates' forum last month. He talked about being a more consistent advocate of conservative views than Costello and about using "granular data" to run a smart campaign.

He hasn't returned my calls about Costello's departure.

Costello has until Tuesday, March 27, to withdraw from the primary ballot.

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Big picture

Costello is the third congressional representative from the Philadelphia area not to seek re-election this year.

Delaware County Republican Pat Meehan dropped his bid after it emerged he'd settled a sexual harassment claim, and Philadelphia Democrat Bob Brady decided to make this his last term after enduring a federal investigation into allegations he paid a 2012 primary opponent to get out of the race.

Brady wasn't charged, but two associates were, and the probe created embarrassing headlines that would have made for a tougher re-election battle.

Democrat Chrissy Houlahan is the only candidate for Costello's seat on the party's primary ballot. She's off to a good start fundraising and is enthusiastically backed by national Democratic leaders and the group Emily's List.

The court-imposed redistricting has made the districts in the suburban counties more competitive, and Franklin and Marshall political analyst Terry Madonna said in an interview that Democrats' prospects are brightening in this year's mid-term elections.

"Pennsylvania has 18 members in its congressional delegation, and the Democrats only hold five seats," Madonna said. "The Democrats now have an opportunity to pick up three Republican-held seats in the Delaware Valley."

Analysts agree the Republicans' best chance to hold on to a seat is in Bucks County, where incumbent U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick is seeking his second term in Congress.

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