Brian Sims Is Probably Running for Congress

Here's what that means.

State Rep. Brian Sims

State Rep. Brian Sims

Brian Sims, the 37-year-old Democratic state representative, won’t say whether he’s going to run for Congress. But we’re pretty sure he’s going to run for Congress.

Rumors have been swirling about it for months, Harrisburg insiders have told us he’s already confirmed his plans to run with some people, and Sims recently sent supporters an invitation for an October 6th fundraiser for the “Brian Sims for Congress Exploratory Committee.”

The invitation said attendees could join Sims for “a candid conversation about bringing ethical behavior back to Philadelphia-area politics.”

Sims would presumably run against U.S. Congressman Chaka Fattah, who was charged in July with using taxpayer dollars and charitable donations to pay back an illegal $1 million campaign loan.

Northwest Philly ward leader Dan Muroff and Lower Merion Township Commissioner Brian Gordon, both Democrats, have already jumped into the primary election for Pennsylvania’s 2nd Congressional District seat.

Sims did not respond to a request for comment.

What are Sims’ strengths and weaknesses, should he run? Sims, who is the first openly gay candidate elected to the General Assembly, has a national profile. That means he could raise money from supporters across the United States.

Sims is a bit of a social media darling, too, which could also help him to spread his campaign message. His Facebook page has more than 126,000 likes. For the sake of comparison, the Facebook pages for state Rep. John Taylor and state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams, who are among the better-known state lawmakers from Philadelphia, have roughly 2,000 and 6,400 likes, respectively.

As someone who has only been in the General Assembly for about three years and who has come to blows with longtime lawmakers in his own party, Sims could make the case that he is a political “outsider.” That might appeal to some voters, particularly in a race against a longtime incumbent under indictment.

But Sims would have major challenges in a race against Fattah, Muroff and Gordon. Local political consultant Larry Ceisler said that, partly because Sims is a member of the minority party in the General Assembly, “he isn’t going to be able to reel off a long list of legislative accomplishments.”

Fattah, on the other hand, has been in Congress for 20 years and can point to several achievements.

Running against an incumbent is, in general, an uphill battle. In 2012, about 90 percent of members of Congress were reelected; despite widespread dissatisfaction with Congress, that figure jumped to about 95 percent in 2014.

recent analysis of Philadelphia’s primary elections by Kevin Gillen, a senior research fellow at Drexel University, found that majority-white wards typically vote in large numbers for white candidates, while majority-black wards tend to vote in large numbers for black candidates. If the lineup of candidates for the 2nd Congressional District stays the same, Ceisler said that could split a “very small pie of votes” among Sims, Muroff and Gordon, who are white. Fattah is African-American.

However, the election of Mayor Michael Nutter in 2007 and Democratic mayoral nominee Jim Kenney’s win in May prove that both majority-black and majority-white wards don’t always hold to this pattern.

The primary election for the 2nd Congressional District is in April 2016. That is the same time that Sims, who represents parts of Center City, would be up for reelection in the state House. Ceisler believes Sims would not run for both seats at the same time, however.

“He represents a district in the House that’s pretty politically sophisticated,” said Ceisler. “I don’t think the people in that district would look very positively to somebody being on the ballot twice.”

Other rumored potential candidates in the 2nd Congressional District race include City Council President Darrell Clarke, District Attorney Seth Williams, state Rep. Dwight Evans, School Reform Commission member Bill Green and many others.