PITTSBURGH — Stripped of his position on the House Ethics Committee by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Rep. Pat Meehan's announcement Thursday evening he would retire at the end of this year placed an already topsy-turvy Pennsylvania GOP into high gear for a primary contest for his Delaware County seat.
Meehan, 62, who until last evening, had insisted he would seek a fifth term representing most of Delaware and parts of Chester and Montgomery counties in suburban Philadelphia, clearly could not withstand the pressure from his peers, the press, and his constituents who had lost confidence in him as the details of the sexual harassment allegations and his use of taxpayer money to settle them played out in the news.
The story, originally reported in the New York Times last Saturday, exposed details of a younger former aide who had filed a complaint against him in 2016 and that Meehan subsequently paid thousands of dollars to settle it using taxpayers’ dollars through his congressional office fund to pay the settlement.
Meehan denied harassing the aide in the New York Times story.
Val DiGiorgio, the state Republican Party chair said in a statement that Meehan made the right decision for the voters of the Seventh Congressional District and himself, calling it “a sad ending to what was an otherwise noteworthy career of a dedicated public servant.”
The Pennsylvania primary for the seat will be held in May, the Delaware County Republican Party, where 60 percent of the district is located, will hold an official nominating meeting on Feb. 12 for anyone who wishes to file.
The process will begin with the floor being open to nominate candidates, if more than one candidate is nominated there will be a formal endorsement meeting on Feb. 20 when all Delaware County committee members will then vote.
There are already three Democrats who have declared they would seek the seat once held by Democrat Joe Sestak, the former congressman who resigned to run in a U.S. Senate primary against Arlen Specter in 2010, after the former Republican famously switched parties in order to get re-elected after he sided with the Democrats on President Barack Obama's stimulus.
Specter believed, during the height of the Tea Party movement, he would not win in a primary contest that year against conservative then-former-Congressman Pat Toomey. Despite backing from Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, Specter lost to Sestak in the Democratic primary. Sestak went on to lose to Toomey in the general election.
Further complicating all of this is no one is certain what the Seventh Congressional District or any other congressional district will look like after Monday’s state supreme court ruling dictated all 18 of the state’s congressional districts had to be redrawn by Feb. 9, an impossible task that has left candidates, challengers, and incumbents unsure of what the seats they are running for will look like.
Meehan’s announcement makes him the second Republican House member in Pennsylvania to retire in disgrace. Former Western Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy resigned his office last October when it was discovered the pro-life Republican was having an affair and allegedly urged his mistress to have an abortion during a pregnancy scare.
That retirement has led to a March 13 special election between Republican Rick Saccone and Democrat Conor Lamb, in a district that went nearly 20 percentage points for future President Trump in 2016.
Both Republicans’ Bill Shuster and Charlie Dent have announced retirements as their committee chairmanships expire at the end of the year, and Lou Barletta, a Republican representing the 11th Congressional District, is retiring to challenge Democratic Sen. Bob Casey.
The Seventh Congressional District, as it currently is drawn, is most favorable to a center-right Republican or centrist Democrat. Neither party would fare well if a far-right or far-left candidate emerged victorious in a primary contest.
Currently Republicans hold 13 of the 18 congressional seats in Pennsylvania.
To date no Republican has declared a candidacy for Meehan's seat in a district that includes most of Delaware County, as well as parts of Montgomery, Lancaster, Berks, and Chester counties. Hillary Clinton narrowly beat Trump in that district in 2016, with Meehan earning 10 points more than both presidential candidates.