Analysis: Fitzpatrick Returning to Washington Next Year?
July 29, 2020
For decades, the key to a long tenure in Congress was pretty straightforward. Members elected from competitive districts were well advised to establish a political identity distinct from that of their party as a safeguard against the vicissitudes of national political trends. As far back as 1964, the Republicans swept out in Barry Goldwater’s landslide defeat were largely not those accustomed to running campaigns in competitive territory but instead those who had long relied on an automatic Republican majority in their district; more than a few of the reform-minded “Watergate babies” of 1974 were similarly able to weather the political headwinds of the Reagan era and leave Congress on their own terms.
There is far less of that today. Precisely three Republican candidates for Congress were elected in 2018 from districts carried two years before by Hillary Clinton, and even the 31 Democrats elected from Trump districts—largely suburban territory where he was able to win narrowly in 2016 but lost ground by 2018—leave us with a Congress nine-tenths of whose members represent districts carried their party’s presidential nominee.
There remain places where the old model persists, though. One is in Pennsylvania’s largely suburban Bucks County, where Republican is running for a third term in Congress. Fitzpatrick is one of only a handful of House Republicans to regularly break ranks with his party, and one hint at his political dexterity can be found in the ease with which he dispatched a primary challenger in June who criticized him for insufficient loyalty to Donald Trump.
Republicans are confident that Fitzpatrick will return to Washington next year, citing both his attentiveness to the district and the not-entirely-airtight argument that any Republican who survived the 2018 midterms can be counted safe.
Democrats seem content with their choice, Christina Finello, but little more: a local elected official and former county administrator, hers is the profile of the candidate to whom a party turns in a race in which they have little interest and only a modest hope that they might win.
Still, this district will test whether the old model of a local Congressman regarded as an independent voice can still be a winning one. The district narrowly voted for Clinton in 2016 and Democrats have made meaningful gains since then in county and legislative races; few observers in either party think Biden will not carry it comfortably. As split-ticket recedes, this will be an interesting race to watch.