Megan Rath’s Impossible Run

This Republican can't beat Bob Brady. But can she point the way?

Turns out there are a few Republicans in Philly after all.

After my Tuesday column lamenting the lack of an effective opposition party in this city, I heard from a few of them. The most aggressive? Megan Rath, who asked for a coffee meeting with me.

Rath, it turns out, is Bob Brady’s Republican opponent for Congress this fall. Did you know that? I didn’t, and I try to pay attention to these things. No worries: Rath is running on the “Field of Dreams” theory of politics — if you build it, they (meaning voters) might come. They certainly won’t vote for Republicans who don’t contest elections.

“There’s a lot of people out there who would like good governance,” Rath says. “You’ve got to give them a choice.”

Actually she doesn’t have a prayer against Brady, the city’s top Democrat — not this year, at least — but she does possess many of the traits the GOP will need in its candidates if it is to return to any level of relevance in the city: She’s young (34) and bright, and goes to great lengths to separate herself from the far right of her party: She’s pro-choice and vocal about it, and names moderate GOP Senator Olympia Snowe as one of her political heroes.

Republicans who have broken through in urban Democratic strongholds — think Rudy Giuliani in New York — have often done so promising competence in governance and some liberalism on social issues like abortion and gay rights.

“When you tell people you’re moderate, that you’re liberal on social issues, (they say) ‘Well I’d totally vote Republican then,'” she says. Most GOP conservatives venturing into the city “would get chewed up and spit out and told never to come back again.”

So what does Rath need to compete with Brady? Three things come to mind.

The first is money: She says she’s raised $30,000 — a June finance report put the number then at about half that — and ultimately hopes to raise $100,000. Brady, meanwhile, had more than $700,000 in the bank in June. Not many candidates can overcome the short side of a 20-to-1 finance ratio.

Second, Rath probably also needs to sharpen her case against Brady. Her own stances on the issues are a bit vague, and her critique of the congressman seems to center on the district’s relatively high unemployment rate and general dissatisfaction with Congress. That won’t be good enough to dislodge Brady, who has never won his seat with less than 80 percent of the vote.

Third: Exposure. Voters won’t back candidates they don’t know. That probably goes back, in part, to the question of money.

Even if all three elements were in place, though, Rath still notes the district’s voters run four-to-one in favor of Democrats. She doesn’t seem like a placeholder candidate, though; she’s holding down a full-time job and campaigning throughout her free hours — she says she’s had just three days off this year. Showing up is the first step to winning the battle.

“You’ve got to invest in Philadelphia,” she said. “It’s too important. You can’t write it off anymore.”

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