The two candidates in one of the most closely watched elections of this November’s midterm season will take center stage on Oct. 14 when Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick debates Democratic challenger Scott Wallace at Shir Ami in Newtown.
Fitzpatrick is a freshman representative, having defeated Democrat Steve Santarsiero in 2016. His victory coincided with President Donald Trump narrowly losing Bucks County to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the presidential election.
Fitzpatrick has been eager to label himself a moderate with a penchant for reaching across the aisle. In the House of Representatives, he’s a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of 48 members split evenly among party lines.
The group agrees to vote “yes” as a bloc if 75 percent of the caucus and 50 percent of each party’s members of the caucus agree to a principle.
“If we can get to 60 members, we become essentially the new governing body of Congress, meaning that the solutions we put on the floor to immigration, to health care, criminal justice reform, to infrastructure, will be based on the center, rather than to the extreme right if the Republicans control or the extreme left if the Democrats control,” Fitzpatrick said.
Wallace has been quick to emphasize what he views as the hypocrisy of Fitzpatrick’s words. According to fivethirtyeight.com, Fitzpatrick votes with Trump 83.9 percent of the time. It’s one of the lowest scores among all Republican representatives, but not low enough for Wallace.
“He may not be a cartoon caricature of a Trump congressman, but there’s a vast distance, 180-degree gap, between what he says and what he does,” Wallace said. “He really is a Trump Republican and we will not get any legislation through unless we change the leadership in the U.S. House.”
Fitzpatrick publicly announced his intention to not vote for Trump in the 2016 election, and he has not been shy to speak up against a myriad of Trump’s policy decisions. In the wake of Trump’s since-reversed policy of separating migrant children from their families at the Mexican border, Fitzpatrick joined a bipartisan delegation of legislators on a fact-finding mission to the Tornillo Detention Facility.
Fitzpatrick’s moderate approach appeals to a certain swath of Republicans in the area; he comfortably defeated pro-Trump candidate Dean Malik in the May primary.
Wallace is banking that constituents want to move even further from the right. The grandson of former Vice President Henry A. Wallace, Wallace said he was moved to seek election after Trump’s victory. The race has become a focus of the GOP, with the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC associated with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, putting nearly $500,000 into TV ads attacking Wallace.
The sudden attention has been striking for Wallace, who is seeking political office for the first time.
“It’s more than I expected. I thought I was going to be one of 435 districts, not the first among 435. I didn’t expect this degree of spending and this degree of vitriol and personal attacks,” Wallace said. “I’ve been fighting for what I view as the people who aren’t heard in America all my life. And this just makes me want to fight more.”
Wallace came under fire in May when it was revealed that the Wallace Global Fund, the family-run fund he previously served as co-chair, had endorsed organizations supportive of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
The news prompted Democratic Jewish Outreach of Pennsylvania to announce it would not be endorsing Wallace, only for the group to reverse course about a month later and endorse him.
Wallace chalked the situation up to a misunderstanding.
“I totally, unequivocally disavow the BDS movement,” Wallace said. “Those grants were made by a family member in the foundation. … That [board member] has now left the foundation because we had irreconcilable differences.”
Wallace said he is in favor of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, but he criticized the Trump administration’s “provocations,” into the situation.
“It’s almost like they want Hamas to take over the West Bank. They want to destabilize the Palestinian Authority. That’s not good for the security of Israel, and it’s not good for America’s national security interest,” Wallace said.
Fitzpatrick, who carries a pro-Israel record in Congress, also opposes the BDS movement. When asked about working with potential representatives who harbor different views on Israel, Fitzpatrick cited his ability to push compromise.
“I would give them the benefit of the doubt at the outset. I’d try to talk to them, learn about them, learn about where they come from, what their education is, learn about their family, and try to get inside their brain as to why they’re viewing things that way,” Fitzpatrick said. “No problems will ever be solved without talking things through. But ultimately, at the end of the day, you got to make a decision: Is this person willing to work with us?” l