Pennsylvania’s 8th Congressional District is rather unique.
A true toss-up, it has been represented by men (so far it’s just been men) who sought to promote their nonpartisan credentials.
Now the truth was never so clean and simple, but residents like the myth.
Compounding all this is the fact that the 8th contains all of Bucks County (as well as part of upper Montgomery County). This is a rarity for any county and especially a suburban one. That has given the area’s largest newspaper, the Courier-Times, a lot of power at a time when print is on a steady decline.
The result is the current public dynamic between the campaigns over debate schedules. Democratic nominee and State Rep. Steve Santarsiero has pushed for several face-offs. Republican nominee and younger brother of the retiring incumbent Brian Fitzpatrick has been receptive.
As you would expect, there is quite a bit of political strategy behind these moves.
Santarsiero needs a way to show his own capability while raising his opponent’s profile so low-information voters don’t mistake Brian for Mike. The obvious solution was for the experienced Santarsiero to challenge the first-time GOP candidate to as many debates as possible. He even proposed eight days in the next month in which they could meet.
Fitzpatrick likely has no appetite to debate that many times but can’t let it seem like that is the case. So he proposed six debates and countered with his own set of dates. As the Santarsiero team pointed out, Fitzpatrick’s dates lined up to when the State Rep. will be in Harrisburg, which is unlikely a coincidence.
There’s nothing extraordinary about any of this of course, but the Courier-Times doesn’t think so.
The paper blasted both candidates in their Sunday editorial titled “Debating debates instead of debating”. They also cited the fact that both candidates have signed the paper’s “positivity pledge”. The problem, though, is that in an attempt to improve the discourse, it’s quite possible they’ll limit it instead.
Additionally, such a sought after seat is going to garner involvement from both parties as well as Super PACs. There’s no way for candidates to keep negativity out.
For example, in their editorial the Courier called on Fitzpatrick to denounce a website created by the NRCC to poke fun at Santarsiero’s legislative record.
These sites are among the tamest (and lamest) attacks parties can make. Wait until we get to the fall.
So Brian Fitzpatrick and Steve Santarsiero are in a unique position in that they are in a highly competitive race, yet will be inordinately punished for anything seen as negative campaigning.
That’s quite a tight rope the two nominees will be forced to walk for the next five months.