Four midstate Democrats vying for 10th Congressional District nomination

Written by Emily Previti, Keystone Crossroads Reporter | May 11, 2018 6:58 AM



From left, Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson, Eric Ding, Alan Howe and George Scott participate in a candidate forum on April 18, 2018, in York. (Photo: Chris Dunn, York Daily Record)

(Undated) --Voters in Pennsylvania's 10th congressional district have sent white Republican men to the U.S. House of Representatives for decades, with incumbents winning handily and serving multiple terms.

But that was before this year's landmark court decision that replaced the state's congressional map, making some districts more competitive.

Three-term incumbent Republican Scott Perry's chances are still good in the general election.  But political analysts expect a closer race than usual in the 10th - and there's a four-way primary for the Democratic nomination to challenge Perry.

Primaries marked by policy nuances

Democrat Alan Howe, 55, settled in Carlisle five years ago or so after being overseas for two decades serving in the Air Force, and spending his first few years of retirement in Florida.

Like many candidates, Howe had started his campaign long before the maps were redrawn.

Originally, he set out to challenge Republican U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, who's represented the other part of the new 10th district and is now running for Senate.

"People ask, 'Why is Barletta now running for a Senate office?' One of the reasons is we were beating the stuffing out of him in the [old] 11th congressional district," Howe says.

Howe's nothing if not direct and consistent in articulating positions that are firmly rooted - in some cases, since childhood.

But one component of his agenda developed more recently.

"If Donald Trump has not been impeached by the time you sent me to Washington when I get to Washington impeaching Donald Trump will be my first task," Howe told a group of Dickinson College students during a debate earlier this spring.

Howe's Democratic opponents might support the idea of impeachment, or at least be open to it, but Howe's strongest in his stance. 

That's usually how things work in primaries: Policy differences are nuanced, and this often shifts emphasis to candidates' personality, background and financial resources.


Campaign case study

We saw this play out when candidates discussed gun control.

York County pastor George Scott's released a commercial just before a debate in Scott's backyard that featured the 56-year-old tossing an AR-15 style rifle into a fire.

Like Howe, Scott grew up on a farm and made his career in the military.

But Howe has calling himself the "anti-Perry."

Scott, who lives about 4 miles from Perry, says he has the best shot against the three-term incumbent - in part because they're alike in certain ways.

Howe argues Scott's ad could turn gun owners against Democrats if Scott's their nominee against Perry, while Scott thinks the commercial will get voters' attention in a good way - and besides, he says, he's passionate about the issue (it's one of the four platform pillars highlighted on his website.)

When it comes to firearms policy, the candidates don't diverge until you get to the finer points:

Howe is against expanding the minimum purchase age of 21 to all types of guns, while Scott's soft on that particular point, willing to give it up first in the interest of, say, expanding background checks.

Eric Ding, the 35-year-old public health scientist who grew up in Cumberland County, says he'd only support a multi-pronged initiative that incorporates, for example, delaying delivery of firearms for at least a week (at least a week, but preferably one month) after their purchase and delay expanded access to mental health treatment.

"It's like if you forget to plug one hole out of all the holes in this leaky ship, your ship is still going to sink and you're not going to solve this," Ding says.

Ding's opponents say they favor an evidence-based, holistic approach as well. But he is the only one who sees it as all or nothing scenario.

"[In] D.C., they really don't care about facts," Ding says. "They have an anti-fact, anti-science agenda. But we have to fight back against that. I can't sit idly by."

Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson, 26, who's back in York to run after working in DC on Capitol Hill and in the Office of Management and Budget, says she's focused on enhancing background checks and prepared to compromise to get that.

It's in line with Corbin-Johnson's self-billing as the pragmatic candidate who's enough of a Washington insider to be effective.

"I know the inner workings of the government and how to beat their bureaucracy," she says. "I can actually hit the ground running from day one and not waste my first year in Congress figuring out how Capitol Hill runs."


Following the money

Both Ding and Corbin-Johnson also have shown their fundraising game might be more on par with Perry, who was sitting on over $430,000 as of the Federal Election Commission's last filing deadline.

They each far out-raised Scott and Howe, but had to rely on significant out of state support to do so.

Ding's campaign manager Dan Kalai says some donors might be holding back until the general election.

But Kalai says there were other fundraising complications in this primary tied to Pennsylvania's redistricting saga.

 "Christina Hartman had taken up, early on, ... a lot of the big donor oxygen," Kalai says, noting Hartman was building on momentum - and the war chest that went along with it.

Hartman ran against Lancaster County Republican Lloyd Smucker in 2016, and was favored to challenge him this fall. 

Democrats would've had a hard time winning Smucker's district under the old map. But the new one diminished their chances were even further.

So Hartman left the Democratic nomination to Jess King and pivoted to the 10th - then quit after someone challenged her nominating petitions, just as campaigns were gearing up. 

Hartman's chain of events shows the confusion and strangeness stemming from this year's congressional primary schedule being compressed because of the redistricting lawsuits and the state Supreme Court's handling of them.

The majority of justices refused to delay the election and then did not release the new map until February, with some district boundaries remaining unclear until mere days before candidates could start circulating nominating petitions.

Leaving the four Democrats in the 10th in a two- month scramble for the chance to try to break the GOP's hold on their district.


Published in Carlisle, Cumberland County, Harrisburg, News, York

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