Bucks County voters supported their respective parties’ endorsements in the 8th Congressional District and elected Democratic state Rep. Steve Santarsiero and Republican Brian Fitzpatrick to compete in November’s general election.
Fitzpatrick declared victory early on from the Bucks County Republican Party headquarters in Doylestown after initial results showed him winning by a landslide.
“I think we’ve run an issues-based campaign and will continue to do so,” Fitzpatrick said to supporters. “That’s the message we sent tonight, that taking the high road and winning elections are not mutually exclusive. Our campaign has been and will remain laser-focused on economic growth, protecting the homeland and stopping corruption in D.C.”
Santarsiero addressed supporters at the Temperance House in Newtown, declaring a win with a closer, though still comfortable lead just after 11 p.m.
“This was a hard-fought race. It’s never a good thing when Democrats have to fight Democrats, but I believe that we as a party will come together now stronger than we were before,” Santarsiero said. “While I am indeed happy to win this battle, I did not get into this race 16 months ago just to win a primary.”
Fitzpatrick emerged as the Republican favorite after announcing his candidacy in January, nudging the previous frontrunner, state Rep. Scott Petri, out of the race. The former FBI secret agent’s near-unanimous endorsement from the Bucks GOP was not far behind. Fitzpatrick easily edged primary opponents Andy Warren and Marc Duome, who combined for 22.4 percent of the vote in Bucks with 297 of 304 districts reporting.
Warren’s campaign hinged on his extensive facetime with local voters through decades of public service, which included 15 years as a Bucks County commissioner. However, Fitzpatrick’s campaign budget was about nine times larger than Warren’s estimated $50,000, plus he had party support and the same last name as his brother, Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick.
Duome, a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist from Plumstead, tried to position himself as an outsider candidate in an election cycle where that term has gathered a lot of buzz.
“I’m not a politician, nor am I related to one,” was a repeated campaign line for Duome, but his business-style approach to D.C. politics never took flight with local voters, probably for the same reasons that held back Warren.
Santarsiero and Naughton’s competition was a bit more lively, splitting the percentages about 61 to 39 in Santarsiero’s favor in Bucks with 297 districts reporting.
This marks the second consecutive loss in the 8th Congressional District primary for Naughton, and a tough blow if she plans on running for similar offices in the future. In 2014, Naughton lost to U.S. Army Ranger Kevin Strouse by 815 votes. To Santarsiero, she lost by about 13,500 Bucks County votes.
In the weeks leading up to the primary, Santarsiero and Naughton exchanged increasingly negative attacks. Naughton’s campaign claimed Santarsiero embellished his legislative history and cited an 0-54 record for his authored bills becoming laws. Santarsiero criticized Naughton publicly for failing to release campaign finance details, and did so himself to maintain “transparency.”
Ultimately, voters sided with the former lawyer, social studies teacher and current member of Pennsylvania’s General Assembly, Santarsiero.
It’s so far unclear how the winning candidates will match up in the general election.
Fitzpatrick, who remained mostly aloof to his opponents in the primary, will almost definitely be faced with tougher obstacles this time around.
Fitzpatrick will have to answer questions regarding his brother’s alleged contact with Bucks party leaders, requesting support for the candidate-to-be. According to reports, this contact occurred before Fitzpatrick left his job with the FBI and may have violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from “preliminary activities regarding candidacy.”
In his contest with Naughton, Santarsiero has shown that he is not afraid of attacking opponents, and will likely dig into Fitzpatrick for this. Santarsiero will also have to again defend the criticisms Naughton made toward his record in Harrisburg.
Though Santarsiero has represented the district at the state level over the past seven years, Fitzpatrick is the brother of a well-liked incumbent who crushed his last Democratic opponent in 2014. In terms of notoriety, it’s a toss-up on who has the advantage.
Bucks County has gone Democratic for the last six presidential elections, however, which could play into Santarsiero’s favor as the general election coincides with the presidential race.
This district is viewed as a must-win for both parties, which will presumably yield an outpouring of monetary support from both sides: one looking to flip the seat, and one looking to maintain it.