Politics

Pennsylvania Officials Weigh Backing GOP Candidate for Costello’s Seat

Costello’s withdrawal left them with few options

Pennsylvania Rep. Ryan A. Costello announced he was not seeking re-election after the filing deadline. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rep. Ryan A. Costello’s decision to retire has put Pennsylvania Republicans hoping to hold on to his seat in a bind, and they’re now weighing whether to back the only Republican candidate left in the race.

GOP leaders from Chester County will hold a conference call Thursday to discuss supporting Republican Greg McCauley, a tax lawyer who also filed to run in the 6th District before Costello announced his retirement, according to Val DiGiorgio, the state and Chester County GOP chairman. The county GOP was previously backing Costello, having announced its endorsements in February.

“We’re having a conference all with area leaders in Chester County tomorrow and I need to confer with them,“ DiGiorgio said Wednesday when asked about the likelihood that Republicans would back McCauley. “It’s very sudden so I need to confer with the leaders of the county.”

The timing of Costello’s announcement leaves Republicans with few options for backing another candidate. The party can replace nominees if they withdraw after the primary, which is May 15. But since Costello officially withdrew his name from the ballot Tuesday, McCauley is now the likely nominee.

“I was disappointed that he withdrew. I was disappointed about the timing of the withdrawal,” DiGiorgio said. “It leaves the party in a very difficult spot.”

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Democrats are targeting 6th District this year, and have touted their candidate, Chrissy Houlahan, as an impressive recruit. Houlahan is an Air Force veteran and former chief operating officer of an athletic apparel company.

She was the only Democrat to file for the 6th District race, and her campaign ended 2017 with $950,000 in the bank, according to Federal Election Commission records. McCauley has yet to file with the FEC.

Not giving up

DiGiorgio met recently with McCauley, and he did not encourage him to drop out of the race.

“He’s intelligent. He’s got good ideas,” DiGiorgio said. “He’s got a lot of passion, so he needs to get around and meet our folks though.”

McCauley’s campaign did not return multiple requests for comment. He told NBC10 in Philadelphia that he decided to take on Costello because the two-term congressman “has waffled on a lot of issues and has not supported the party.”

For now, it appears that national Republicans are planning to be active in the race.

“We will work tirelessly to ensure this seat remains in Republican hands,” Rep. Steve Stivers, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said after Costello announced his retirement.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House GOP leadership, had opened a field office in the 6th District. A spokesperson for the group said Wednesday there were no plans to close the office and the group will continue to monitor the race.

But without Costello, the district could become even tougher for Republicans to hold. A new congressional map imposed by the state Supreme Court last month made the 6th District more favorable to Democrats — changing from one Hillary Clinton carried by 1 point in 2016 to one she would have carried by 10 points.

Costello’s retirement also prompted Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales to change the race rating from Tilts Democratic to Likely Democratic.

Asked whether he was concerned outside GOP groups would ultimately write off the district as a lost cause, DiGiorgio said, “Before I start to think about that kind of thing, we have to think about how viable Greg McCauley is and what kind of support we can get locally. If we can rally around him … I think it will be easier to sell it outside of the district.”

Recruiting woes

Republicans were concerned ahead of the March 20 filing deadline that Costello might decide not to run. DiGiorgio said a few potential candidates were approached about running in the days leading up to the filing deadline. But no one wanted to run, especially with only two months before the primary and less than eight months before the general election.

Former GOP Rep. Jim Gerlach, whom Costello succeeded in 2015, said Tuesday he was approached about running. But Gerlach, who is now president of the Business-Industry Political Action Committee, said he was not interested in a return to Congress.

“I’ve been there, I’ve done that and I’m very happy with my role here at BIPAC,” the former lawmaker said.

Gerlach also said he was disappointed Costello would not be running again. He participated via conference call in a meeting that Costello held with GOP leaders on Friday, in which the congressman revealed he would be dropping out of the race. The meeting was first reported by City & State PA.

Gerlach said the discussion focused on why Costello did not want to run for re-election, and he said the Republicans in the meeting felt the two-term lawmaker was still in a position to win.

“It’s a very winnable district,” Gerlach said, noting he was able to win in his previous congressional district, which was slightly more Democratic than the redrawn 6th. “It’s a very informed and educated voter base. So they are going to really look hard at the candidates themselves.”

(While the new district voted for Clinton in 2016, it also narrowly supported GOP Sen. Patrick J. Toomey’s re-election bid, according to calculations by J. Miles Coleman of Decision Desk HQ.)

However, Costello pointed to the difficult political environment for Republicans as one of the reasons he decided not to run again. More moderate lawmakers like him are facing pressure from both the left and the right.

“In my district, I was just about to say, the local Democrats and the left has become more engaged, and, candidly, more angry by the week as President Trump says things and does things, which many Republicans, myself amongst them, from time to time do disagree with,” Costello said Sunday night on MSNBC.

“That, coupled with the fact that every single time that I speak out and voice my disagreement with what the president might do or might say, only then [that] has my pro-Trump Republicans not too pleased with me either,” he added.

Democrats interpreted Costello’s decision as another sign that Republicans in the majority are in trouble heading into the midterms.

“Costello’s exit should set off alarm bells for vulnerable House Republicans, who will also have to explain to middle class voters why they’ve given repeated handouts to the rich and biggest corporations, and who will face similarly tough, well-financed challenges from our deep field of impressive candidates,” said Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Evan Lukaske.

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