When U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa., announced her candidacy for governor earlier this year, her impending departure from Congress created a void in the 13th District. With five months to go before the Democratic primary election, no clear favorite has emerged from the pack.
Schwartz’s seat, which covers parts of Montgomery County and Northeast Philadelphia, was made more Democratic after the last census and for this reason — as well as Schwartz’s candidacy for governor — it is more competitive in this election, said Robin Kolodny, a political science professor at Temple University.
“The reason you have a lot of competition right now in the Democratic primary is that, even though I’m sure there will be a Republican candidate, the odds [of winning the general election] are very much in favor of whatever Democratic member gets the nomination,” Kolodny said.
The candidates vary in stature and experience from a former congresswoman to a physician who has never held elected office. For three of the four candidates – two state legislators and a former congresswoman – their name recognition works to their advantage, but it varies throughout the district.
“Depending on where you are, any one of them is going to have more or less name recognition than the other,” Kolodny said.
State Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Philadelphia, and state Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, are the only two of the candidates who currently hold elected office. Boyle, who was elected to office in 2008, has an advantage in name recognition in Northeast Philadelphia, Kolodny said, but it also represents his challenge in the primary.
“Boyle is a very impressive politician but his part of the district is just smaller,” Kolodny said. “It gives him an advantage in the Northeast but that’s not the biggest part of the district. That’s the conundrum for him.”
In an interview, Boyle stressed the importance of addressing the issues of income inequality, education and a lack of jobs.
Leach’s current seat works in his favor, Kolodny said, though she added that the race is still very far from being decided.
“If you forced me to make a bet,” Kolodny said, “I would say Leach has an advantage because I believe he represents a larger part of the district.”
Leach said he wants to expand on and take what he has done in the state legislature into Congress.
“I want to take what I’ve done in the state legislature – take the toughest fights, the issues that are sometimes unpopular or misunderstood or where the public isn’t, where they will eventually be and help lead the way,” Leach said.
Leach’s campaign chair, former U.S. Rep Joe Hoeffel, noted how strongly Leach fights for his causes as a reason for giving his support.
“What won my support for Daylin is that he’s willing to take his progressive stances without fear,” Hoeffel said. “He’s my kind of politician.”
Marjorie Margolies served one term as the district’s congresswoman and nearly 20 years after she lost reelection, she is running to retake the seat. She has scored a slew of key endorsements from the likes of U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and more than 30 other current and former members of Congress.
Margolies is perhaps more well-known for her famous family connections. Her son is married to Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
As is the case with both Boyle and Leach, name recognition varies across the district for Margolies. Unlike Boyle and Leach, Margolies holds name recognition with voters across the district, but it could be limited to those who were a part of the electorate 20 years ago, Kolodny said.
“She has name recognition, she has a lot of friends, she’s close with Schwartz,” Kolodny said. “She’s well-known for other things other than the fact that she represented the district 20 years ago. Obviously, there are a whole bunch of new voters in the last 20 years and, sadly, a lot of voters have exited the electorate in the last 20 years.”
The least known candidate in the race is Valerie Arkoosh, a physician who has campaigned on the fact that she is not a career politician, according to her website.
“I think that my background – as a practicing physician, as someone who really understands what a lot of impacts of policies are that come out of Washington on real people, is unique among the other candidates,” said Arkoosh, who is also a professor at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
One of Arkoosh’s biggest strengths so far in the race is her ability to raise money. According to the Federal Election Commission, Arkoosh has raised more than $732,000 – more than any of the other three candidates.
“As you go through the receipts, she’s succeeded in raising a lot of money, but a good deal of it has come from other professionals out of state,” Kolodny said. “While that gives her the ability the purchase a great deal of political advertising, it is not the same as reaching up to a voter who has voted for you in the past.”
Bryan Lewsing, Arkoosh’s communications director, challenged the notion that Arkoosh’s funds are driven by out-of-state professionals.
“We crunched our numbers/receipts here and calculated that approximately 55 percent of our individuals donors are Pennsylvania-based and 55 percent of our total contributions are Pennsylvania-based,” said Bryan Lewsing.
He also challenged the notion that Arkoosh’s contributions come from corporations or professional organizations.
“98.6 percent of our contributions are from individuals,” he said in an email.
Kolodny added that because of how competitive the race – which will culminate in a primary election on May 20, 2014 – is, an outsider like Arkoosh could win because she would be aiming for just 26 percent of the vote.
“If I were any of them, I would not drop out,” Kolodny said. “With that many candidates, it’s anybody’s race.”