Campaigns & Elections

Preparing for Perry: The PA-10 Democratic primary enters its endgame

Democrats seeking to challenge U.S. Scott Perry in the fall look to separate themselves ahead of the April 23 contest.

Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry

Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District race will be one of the most-watched congressional races in the nation in 2024 as Democrats set their sights on Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Perry and seek to oust the archconservative from office – and perhaps even regain control of the U.S. House in the process. 

But first, Democrats will have to choose a nominee for this fall’s general election matchup against Perry, the former chair of the House Freedom Caucus who has proven particularly resistant to Democratic challengers. That’s despite Perry becoming a central figure in efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, as evidenced by the FBI’s seizure of Perry’s cell phone in 2022 and his reported efforts to install an acting attorney general sympathetic to then-President Donald Trump’s false election fraud claims in late 2020.

Six Democrats are eyeing a general election matchup against Perry in the fall: former WGAL news anchor Janelle Stelson; Marine Corps veteran Mike O’Brien; Harrisburg City Councilmember Shamaine Daniels; Carlisle Area School District board member Rick Coplen; Blake Lynch, who formerly worked as a media executive and Harrisburg Police community relations director; and John Broadhurst, a businessman, entrepreneur and former truck driver. 

While the Democratic candidates come from vastly different backgrounds, they all are united in their view that Perry is not only too ideologically extreme and poses a threat to democracy, but that he’s also not a right fit for the 10th Congressional District. 

Scott Perry’s House of Disdain

The six candidates seeking the Democratic nomination may be more united than one might think.

That’s because each of the Democrats in the PA-10 primary have made defeating Perry a key issue of their respective campaigns, regardless of where they stand on other priorities.  In his first ad of the campaign, O’Brien, who served alongside his wife in the U.S. Marine Corps, looked to draw a contrast between himself and Perry. “My wife Courtney and I are the first married couple in the Marine Corps to both command squadrons. We honored our oaths to our country. Scott Perry failed us and betrayed his oath,” O’Brien said in a 30-second spot released in early April. Perry is also a veteran; he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1980 and was deployed to Iraq from 2009 to 2010. Perry retired in 2019 after 40 years of military service – his last position in the military was assistant adjutant general in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

In the last televised debate of the 10th Congressional District primary hosted by WGAL, O’Brien further underscored how pivotal Perry is to the Democratic primary: “Make no mistake,” he said. “This primary is all about who can beat Scott Perry.”Stelson, a former news anchor for Lancaster-based WGAL TV, referred to Perry as “Congressman Chaos” in an interview with City & State and said that she could no longer sit on the sidelines as a TV anchor, instead wanting to get involved in a more direct manner. “Scott Perry is an anarchist and election denier, one of the architects of Jan. 6,” Stelson told City & State. “I realized that I can no longer watch the Scott Perry story and just tell you about it. I needed to move. I hope I get to Washington and raise my right hand and can actually do something about our issues and our concerns.”

Daniels has made Perry a focal point of the race since she jumped into the primary last April. “Perry is out of step with this district, and that is on full display with his plans to jeopardize Social Security and Medicare while putting the entire economy in peril,” Daniels said in a statement the day she launched her campaign. “Today, April 27th, is the 85th anniversary of the first Social Security check being mailed to an American. We chose this day to announce my campaign to highlight not just Perry’s extremism, but his callous disregard for the people he was elected to represent.”

Christopher Borick, a professor of political science at Muhlenberg College and director of the college’s Institute of Public Opinion, said that Perry “has become a larger and larger target for Democrats.” Borick attributed that fact to both the changing demographics of the 10th Congressional District, as well as Perry’s involvement with the House Freedom Caucus, which he chaired from January 2022 through the end of 2023. “There’s optimism that this could be the cycle that Perry can be knocked out.”

The nonpartisan Cook Political Report changed its 10th Congressional District rating from “Likely R” to “Lean R” in December 2023. 

Broadhurst and Coplen shared their thoughts on Perry in a March debate hosted by ABC27, a Harrisburg-based news station. Coplen said he heard from residents of Harrisburg’s Allison Hill neighborhood that voters have tired of Perry. “I was on the streets of Allison Hill one day, and the people there told me, ‘Scott Perry doesn’t listen to us, doesn’t represent us and Scott Perry doesn’t care about us.’ That is terrible to hear for anybody. I guarantee everyone that I listen carefully. I will represent everyone,” Coplen said. 

Broadhurst said in the March debate that to combat ideological extremism, he wants to address the root caucus of key issues affecting the 10th District. 

“I'm trying to address causes and not simply deal with consequences,” Broadhurst said. “In order to defeat a representative of MAGA, we have to identify and address the causes. In my view, these causes are extreme economic inequality, it is the 20 years of failed militarism and it’s a lack of political accountability.”

“When these three things come together as they have over the past 20 years, it leads to feelings of alienation, hate, racism, anger – and this is the fuel of extremism,” he added. 

Lynch, in an interview with City & State, said that Perry no longer is representative of 10th District voters, calling Perry a “national embarrassment” who is “too busy fighting culture wars.” “Scott Perry is not reflective of the district any longer. He is too extreme, he is way too right and this district continues to grow more and more diverse – and that is where the disconnect is,” Lynch said.  

Visions for the 10th Congressional District

Lynch said his first priority if elected would be introducing legislation to make it more affordable for Pennsylvania seniors to stay in their homes and afford prescription drugs. “It’s absolutely going to be developing a bipartisan bill for affordability for our seniors and then also for middle-class families,” he said. Stelson stressed the importance of codifying Roe v. Wade protections into federal law: “Not only will I vote to re-codify Roe v. Wade, but I will be a champion for it,” she said. Stelson also highlighted raising the minimum wage as a key issue, noting that Pennsylvania’s hourly minimum wage remains at $7.25 even as neighboring states have increased their rates. 

O’Brien has backed raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation. He has also expressed support for antitrust and anti-monopoly legislation and reforming the U.S. tax code, including by enhancing the federal child tax credit. 

Broadhurst, speaking at the WGAL debate in April, said Congress should establish a tax break for renters, and supports eliminating all medical debt in the United States. “These two things are very concrete measures that the next Congress can take,” he said.  

Daniels, who is currently a member of Harrisburg City Council, said in the April 9 debate that she would make affordable housing and access to food two of her top issues. She said she hopes to drive federal funds back to the district to support those two priorities. 

“We need to make sure that our residents have a safe space to be so that they can address all of their other concerns,” she said. “The other thing we need to focus on is large portions of the 10th are food deserts. We can support our agriculture segment and industry by embracing and supporting the access of fresh produce within our district.”

Coplen said at the April 9 debate that, if elected, he would support raising the minimum wage to $21 an hour to ensure that it’s a “living wage” for Pennsylvnaians. He also said he would vote for U.S. Sen. Bob Casey’s so-called “shrinkflation” bill, and said he supports increased access to public education and job training. 

And as a sitting school board director, Coplen also looked to sell voters on his electability in red districts. “I’m the only person up here that has won an election as a Democrat in a Republican district. I’ve done that twice. I have the depth and breadth of experience to serve you and to solve problems for you in Congress from day one.”

With so many candidates running and so many ideas for the 10th Congressional District, Borick noted that the Democratic primary is a bit difficult to predict and that the packed Democratic field could allow for some surprises.

“Certainly (with) crowded fields, you don’t need a very large percentage to win. If people are taking small segments, it lowers the bar for the percentage that you need,” he said. “But it certainly also throws in some wild cards.”