The three Republicans who represent portions of the Northeast in the state House of Representatives should have money and name recognition advantages over their Democratic opponents, but there is a wild card this year.
Local races often can be affected by campaigns at the top of the ticket, and neither major-party presidential candidate is especially popular.
Most Americans question the trustworthiness of Democrat Hillary Clinton, who was “extremely careless” in the way she handled her email account as secretary of state, according to FBI Director James Comey.
Republican Donald Trump fares even worse in polling on experience and temperament.
Even after some of candidate Trump’s early stumbles — questioning whether former POW John McCain was a war hero, mocking a disabled reporter and lashing out at Megyn Kelly of Fox News for tough questioning at a debate — he and Clinton were about even in the polls.
Then Khizr Khan stepped to the podium at the Wells Fargo Center on the final night of the Democratic National Convention.
Khan was joined by his wife, Ghazala, both Muslims born in Pakistan, for what was thought to be little more than a warmup speech for Clinton later that night.
Their son, Humayun, was a U.S. Army captain killed in 2004 in the war in Iraq.
Mr. Khan criticized Trump for his proposed ban on Muslims entering the U.S. He questioned whether Trump had read the Constitution, adding that the candidate had not sacrificed because neither he nor his children have served in the military.
Trump fired back that he has read the Constitution, raised money for veterans and opposed the war in Iraq, while Clinton voted for it in the Senate.
But he also suggested that Mrs. Khan stayed silent because Muslim women are discouraged from speaking in public. He insinuated that the speech was written by the Clinton campaign. And he insisted he had sacrificed by employing people at his businesses.
The damage was done. The public sided with the Khans. Coupled with Clinton’s convention bounce, polls now show Trump in a 10-percentage-point hole.
Local Democratic candidates for state representative could benefit.
Al DerMovsesian, challenging Rep. Tom Murt in the 152nd Legislative District, which includes Bustleton and portions of eastern Montgomery County, is no fan of the Republican presidential candidate.
“Mr. Trump continues to show his lack of seriousness,” he said.
Murt declined to comment for this story.
DerMovsesian said Murt, who served in Iraq, should be angry that Trump joked after recently receiving a Purple Heart from a veteran. The challenger said he’d be a fighter for more education funding and a higher minimum wage.
Guilt by association could aid DerMovsesian.
“Both Donald Trump and Tom Murt are too extreme to represent this district,” he said.
In the 170th Legislative District, Rep. Martina White preferred a ticket of John Kasich and Marco Rubio, but Trump had little trouble winning the Pennsylvania primary and capturing the nomination.
“The people have spoken,” she said.
Now, White said she is undecided how she will vote in the presidential race, though she is unlikely to support Clinton.
White said she’ll run on a positive, bipartisan record of securing money for schools and supporting the agenda of law enforcement and unions.
The incumbent doesn’t see a correlation between contests for president and state representative.
“They are two separate races,” she said. “You don’t call the president and say, ‘Hey, can you help fix this local issue?’ I’m making sure I’m addressing the concerns of Northeast Philadelphia and families up here.”
Democrat Matt Darragh, who is challenging White, figured Trump’s campaign would crash and burn in the Iowa caucus and New Hampshire primary.
Darragh labels Trump an “open misogynist” and “demagogue” and accuses him of “race baiting,” adding that many people he meets at doorsteps feel the same way. He’s not a “serious man in serious times,” like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.
“He’s a modern-day George Wallace,” he said, comparing Trump to the former Democratic segregationist governor of Alabama. “We deserve better than that from the party of Abraham Lincoln.”
Darragh will be campaigning on education, tax reform, jobs and general pocketbook issues, but wouldn’t rule out linking White to Trump.
“I don’t want people to vote against Martina as much as I want them to vote for me, but I think I’m going to draw that comparison,” he said.
Democrat Joe Hohenstein is challenging Rep. John Taylor in the 177th Legislative District, and questions the seriousness of Trump’s campaign.
“He lacks the temperament to run a government.”
If a Democratic presidential candidate had made comments about women or immigrants and failed to recognize the service and sacrifice of military members and their families, Hohenstein would have reacted.
“I would call them out on it. It’s not about politics.”
Hohenstein wants more funding for schools, higher taxes on big corporations and long-term solutions to budget issues. He isn’t focusing on Trump, but thinks Taylor should speak about the presidential nominee of his party.
“John should tell the people of the district where he stands on Trump. He’s not only an elected official, he’s the recently resigned chair of the Philadelphia Republican Party,” he said.
Taylor, first elected in 1984, preferred Rubio, Kasich or Chris Christie for the nomination, saying there is a “very juvenile component” to Trump’s campaign. Still, he’ll vote for Trump.
“We don’t have a whole lot of choices,” he said. “Hillary is no box of chocolates, either. I can’t vote for Hillary.”
Just 29 percent of voters in the 177th are Republican. Some 62 percent are Democrats, with 9 percent independents or members of minor parties.
While many of those Democrats are probably closeted Republicans, Taylor needs crossover voters. He’s running a neighborhood race that “happens to coincide with a national election” and describes himself as “a spectator just like everybody else.”
In facing Hohenstein, Taylor will run his usual “vote the neighborhood first” campaign.
“People won’t be calling the White House when there’s a problem on their block. I’ve been very successful 16 straight times,” he said. “Hohenstein’s only hope is a disaster at the top of the ticket for the Republican Party.”
The Northeast is also home to two local Republican members of City Council. Brian O’Neill represents the 10th Councilmanic District. Al Taubenberger, who was unavailable for comment, serves at large.
O’Neill said Trump, as a businessman, faces a learning curve in running for president. It’s instinctive for him to counter-punch, like when he said that the Mexican-American judge overseeing civil suits related to Trump University had a conflict of interest because Trump wants to build a wall at the southern border to stem illegal immigration.
After Mr. Khan made his speech, in O’Neill’s opinion, Trump should have simply said that he has no problem with legal immigration.
“He’s got to take a deep breath. He’s got to slow down and reflect. He’s got to temper things,” the councilman said.
O’Neill said Trump should still campaign as an outsider who will create jobs and appoint qualified Supreme Court justices. The good news, he said, is that most voters think Washington is “screwed up” and don’t trust Clinton.
“He’s never going to be like the Washington politicians who wait till their handlers take a poll and tell them what to say,” O’Neill said. ••
MARIA YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO