Pennsylvania Republican Representative Brian Fitzpatrick is an active target of the Democrats in 2024, but now he faces a primary challenge from the right.
Mark Houck, the first nominee, is an anti-abortion activist who filed paperwork Thursday to run in Pennsylvania’s 1st congressional district. Houck was recently cleared of charges following an altercation with an escort from an abortion clinic outside a health clinic, and told a local radio host last week that he is not in favor of abortion access or rape and incest exceptions.
His entry into the race leads to a potentially messy primary — one with a focus on abortion rights — between a conservative activist and one of the most bipartisan members of Congress in a rocking chair that the GOP needs to win in November to try to secure a majority in the Congress. Fitzpatrick is one of 18 Republicans representing a district that Democratic President Joe Biden won in 2020.
“I believe those exceptions are not exceptions at all: when it comes to rape, incest, and the mother’s life, you know, my faith informs me about that. But let me say rape and incest, look, the kid isn’t committing the crime,” Houck said on 1210 WPHT radio station.
“The child does not deserve the death penalty, and the reality is that we victimize the mother even more. And so, once we start to recognize that, we will realize that rape and incest is not a good excuse to end a human being,” he said.
While the GOP base is more likely to oppose abortion access, that attitude can be toxic in a general election. Abortion is widely credited with swinging key races in the interim, including in Pennsylvania, where now-Gov. Josh Shapiro and Nu-Sen. John Fetterman also won Fitzpatrick’s district in 2022.
Radio host Dom Giordano interrupted Houck to say he didn’t think voters would win against abortion access in Bucks County, a swing county that makes up the majority of the congressional district.
A spokesman for the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, said they don’t think abortion will be the overriding issue in Fitzpatrick’s primary and pointed to the incumbent’s past electoral success.
Fitzpatrick has fended off challenges from his right flank before. And last cycle he won about two-thirds of the vote against his main challenger and then 54 percent of the vote in the general election.
The National Republican Congressional Committee plans to issue on behalf of the incumbent, including in a primary if necessary.
But even as a longshot candidate, Houck will help the Democratic opposition say the GOP is extreme when it comes to abortion access. Democrats have successfully exposed GOP candidates’ restrictive abortion positions during the interims, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has already pledged to make abortion a top campaign issue by 2024.
The first candidate already has a track record as a fundraiser and some notoriety for the abortion clinic case, which was heavily covered by the conservative and religious press.
After the FBI arrested him for the altercation at the abortion clinic, Houck raised more than $400,000 for his legal defense fund on GiveSendGo (an alternative to GoFundMe).
Houck was acquitted last January, and his attorney told the Philadelphia Inquirer that the case was “nothing more than an intimidation tactic by the Biden Justice Department” against those who oppose abortion access.
Fitzpatrick is a moderate in the Republican delegation, and the district has no reputation for supporting “hardcore pro-lifers,” veteran Republican strategist Christopher Nicholas told POLITICO.
“I’m sure he’ll run a tough primary,” Nicholas said of Houck. “But the road is littered with Republicans who thought they would successfully challenge Fitzpatrick, and I see no evidence yet that he won’t join them.”