How Greg McCauley Became the Accidental Nominee of this Competitive House Race
Update: FiveThirtyEight has reported that, among a few other districts, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership fund has opted out of funding this race, essentially ceding the loss to Democrats. Their analysis gives Greg McCauley a 1.4% of winning in his district.
This November, American voters around the country will go to the polls to elect their representatives in Washington. For such a polarized moment in national politics, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Donald Trump, blaming various inactions on a slim majority in Congress, has already been on the campaign trail and tweeting out to his followers and detractors alike, “Must elect more Republicans in 2018 Election!” Democrats, on the other hand, are eyeing to at least flip the House of Representatives and wrest some control over a federal government dominated by conservatives. To do so they would have to win 23 Republican-controlled seats, and of the 435 seats that make up the House, only about 1 in 5 are non-partisan enough to realistically change party from election to election. Swing Left, an organizing group for Democratic activism, has identified 78 competitive districts worth focusing their time and attention on. One such district is Pennsylvania’s 6th.
The Democratic candidate is Chrissy Houlahan, an Air Force Veteran who later served as COO/CFO for a non-profit supporting child literacy initiatives and raised $1,500,000+ in individual donations in the run-up to the primary.
The Republican candidate, tasked with holding the seat for his party, is Greg McCauley, a tax attorney and operator of nine Wendy’s franchises who comparatively raised $520.
To uncover why this underfunded political novice came to be the Republican-nominee for this competitive House race, one must start with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling from this past January which decided that the state’s district map “clearly, plainly and palpably” violated the state constitution.² This order was roundly derided by PA Republicans, many of whom called for the justices to be impeached.³ But on February 5th, the U.S. Supreme Court “refused to stop Pennsylvania’s highest court from requiring lawmakers there to redraw the state’s congressional map.”⁴ The decision, which was dismissed without referral to the full court, came from conservative Justice Samuel Alito and was widely expected given that the PA Supreme Court made their decision solely on the basis of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
Nineteen days later, President Trump tweeted that the decision of PA’s Supreme Court was, “very unfair,” and that it must be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court “ASAP”— apparently unaware that it already had been. Another emergency appeal was filed with Justice Samuel Alito and was similarly denied.⁵
Meanwhile, it was revealed that Republican Representative Patrick Meehan, of the 7th District of PA, had settled a sexual harassment claim from a former aide with $39,000 of taxpayer funds. In response he announced he would not seek reelection, and subsequently resigned in April.⁶ As of January 25th, when Meehan announced he would not be running for his seat in November, the 7th District of PA was likely-Republican, going for Meehan by a margin of 19-points in 2016.⁷
Within a couple weeks, seven Republicans announced their candidacy to replace the four-term incumbent.⁸ Most were attorneys or former prosecutors. Pearl Kim was the former Deputy Attorney General of Radnor Township and Jeremy Gonzalez Ibrahim was nominated by President George W. Bush to the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission. Greg McCauley’s candidacy came late to the crowded field and was announced only by Delco Times, which introduced him as, “a Republican tax attorney/Wendy’s owner.”⁹
But it was an open question as to what the districts would look like following the state’s Supreme Court ruling. The 7th District was notoriously gerrymandered, its shape described as, “Goofy kicking Donald Duck,” and it was anyone’s guess where the lines would be drawn. On February 19th, after Pennsylvania Republicans and Democrats came to a standstill on drawing a new map, the state court released one of their own. Six of the seven candidates still fell into Meehan’s district, the newly constructed District 5, but the boundaries made it a solidly Democratic seat—its voters having selected Clinton over Trump by a margin of 28.2 points. All but one of the Republican primary candidates dropped out, leaving Pearl Kim to run for the nomination unopposed. The seventh candidate — Greg McCauley — would be running in District 6.
As per his FEC filing, Greg McCauley lives in Chadds Ford, PA and his Principal Campaign Committee is located at 510 Kennett Pike—the same address in Chadds Ford as McCauley Law Offices where Greg McCauley practices tax law with his son, Greg McCauley, Jr.¹⁰ Before the redrawing of PA’s Congressional Districts, this was in District 7. Now it’s in District 6.
District 6 didn’t have a Republican resigning after a sexual harassment scandal, though. Instead it was held by Ryan Costello, a Republican Representative elected in 2014. He had already filed to run in the primary, and being a Republican incumbent in an election year favoring Democrats, the race did not attract any competition for the nomination. This, however, did not deter Greg McCauley from updating his statement of candidacy to run in District 6 as a Republican and challenge Costello for a spot on the ballot. “I thought, ‘I am more conservative than he is,’ so I kept running,” McCauley said.¹¹
But the race did not last long enough for McCauley to attack Costello from the right. On March 25th, Representative Costello announced he would no longer be seeking the nomination. Already facing a tough re-election before the redrawn map, it appears he folded after the new district lines gave Democrats an advantage. Days later he filed to remove his name from the ballot, essentially securing the victory for McCauley. “Costello’s decision has infuriated Pennsylvania Republicans, especially as it arrived after the deadline for other candidates to file to run,” it was reported.¹² Now running unopposed, on May 15th Greg McCauley won the Republican nomination for PA District 6 by default.
So, stepping back from how he managed to win, what are the political positions of newcomer Greg McCauley? Despite stating he was more conservative than Costello, it’s difficult to find exactly what he meant by that. At this time, the entirety of his campaign website dedicates less than 500 words to his stances on various political topics from, “Economy” to “Military.”¹³ And the picture it paints is of an extraordinarily moderate, if not liberal, Republican.
Under “Obamacare” he hits the Republican talking point right away—repeal and replace—but goes on to say it should be replaced with a “better plan that covers all Americans.” This could be similar to when Trump said he wanted “insurance for everybody” before he supported a bill that would instead strip coverages from millions of Americans. However, McCauley’s site does essentially state that employer-sponsored health insurance is a burden on small businesses and that all of us need to share that expense.
Then, even after “President Trump embraced hard-line immigration policies as a centerpiece of the Republican Party’s midterm campaign strategy,”¹⁴ McCauley lists his position on immigration enforcement as:
“To start, illegal immigrants must register for a work permit and begin to pay taxes just like everyone else. Common sense says this should be the first step to qualify for citizenship.”
Despite writing, “to start,” the entire page ends here. As it stands today, and has for decades, undocumented immigrants cannot apply for a work permits. It requires legal status like “K-1 fiance visa holders, asylees, people with a pending application for adjustment of status (a green card), spouses of various visa holders, people with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) or Deferred Enforced Departure (DED), F-1 students experiencing economic hardship or seeking optional practical training (OPT), and so on.”¹⁵ If McCauley is suggesting immigrants who cross the border illegally should have the opportunity to apply for legal status that gives them the right to work and a pathway to citizenship it’d make him the most liberal Republican running for Congress when it comes to immigration, even more liberal than many Democrats. He repeats this call under “Social Security,” which states, “We should immediately issue work visas to illegal immigrants so they can pay into SSI and Medicare.”
And when it comes to deportation, despite Trump’s zero- tolerance policy, he’s said, “I don’t think you’re going to deport 30 million people. I don’t think all the planes in the U.S. would hold 30 million people.”¹⁶ The actual estimate of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. is about 11 million.
As for regulating access to firearms, a central tenant of conservative ideology, his website has a single sentence stating, “As a gun owner, I support the Second Amendment and will make sure steps are taken to keep guns out of the hands of troubled individuals.” Whatever he means by, “steps,” will determine where he falls on the political spectrum, but Republicans have generally opposed any new regulations restricting access while Democrats have long pushed for universal background checks which would conceivably accomplish what McCauley is referring to.
In an interview with WHYY he also spoke on the issue of student loans:¹⁷
“I would like to take all those loans and move [the interest rates] down to 2 percent, so that the younger generation paying them will have more capital to live on, and they can live the American dream.”
During the 2016 Presidential election, Hillary Clinton’s policy position on student loans included a similar proposal, “refinancing current loans at today’s lower interest rates.”¹⁸ The difference being that her plan would have only reduced those rates to about 4.3%.
As the general election ramps up it will be curious to see where McCauley ultimately lands on these issues. For what it’s worth the Republican party says they’re behind him. “We will work tirelessly to ensure this seat remains in Republican hands,” expressed Rep. Steve Stivers, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.¹⁹ The Committee has added Greg McCauley to their Young Guns program, designed to highlight new candidates in key races. Behind the scenes it’s worth considering whether the party has already written off this race. Designated “likely Democratic” by the Cook Political Report, it wouldn’t be a momentous loss for the Republican Party, but it’d mean 22 seats left to go for Democrats.
¹ Bradner, Eric. “CNN’s Key Races: Can Democrats Take the House?” CNN, Cable News Network, 30 Jan. 2018, www.cnn.com/2018/01/30/politics/2018-house-race-ratings/index.html.
² Previti, Emily. “Pennsylvania Supreme Court Strikes down Congressional District Map.” WHYY, 22 Jan. 2018, whyy.org/articles/pennsylvania-supreme-court-strikes-congressional-district-map/.
³ Wilson, Reid. “Pennsylvania GOP Moves to Oust Judges over Gerrymandering Decision.” TheHill, 21 Mar. 2018, thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/379359-pennsylvania-gop-moves-to-oust-judges-over-gerrymandering-decision.
⁴ Liptak, Adam. “Justices Won’t Block Pennsylvania Gerrymandering Decision.” The New York Times, 5 Feb. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/02/05/us/politics/supreme-court-pennsylvania-gerrymandering.html.
⁵ Montanaro, Domenico. “Supreme Court Delivers Blow To Republicans, Declines To Take Up Pa. Redistricting.” NPR, 19 Mar. 2018, www.npr.org/2018/03/19/594993409/supreme-court-delivers-blow-to-republicans-declines-to-take-up-pa-redistricting.
⁶ Vogel, Kenneth P., and Katie Rogers. “Patrick Meehan Won’t Seek Re-Election in Pennsylvania.” The New York Times, 26 Jan. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/01/25/us/politics/patrick-meehan-re-election-pennsylvania.html.
⁷ “Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District.” Ballotpedia, ballotpedia.org/Pennsylvania’s_7th_Congressional_District.
⁸ Davies, Dave. “Crowd Emerges Seeking GOP Nomination in Rep. Pat Meehan’s District.” WHYY, 13 Feb. 2018, whyy.org/articles/crowd-emerges-seeking-gop-nomination-rep-pat-meehans-district/.
⁹ Carey, Kathleen E. “Ex-Fed Prosecutor and Tax Lawyer Join Crowded Field in the 7th.” The Delaware County Daily Times, 7 Feb. 2018, www.delcotimes.com/article/DC/20180206/NEWS/180209773.
¹⁰ “MCCAULEY, GREGORY MICHAEL — Candidate Overview.” FEC.gov, www.fec.gov/data/candidate/H8PA07192/.
¹¹ Brelje, Beth. “Chester County Tax Attorney Seeks GOP Nod for 6th District Seat.” Reading Eagle, 6 Apr. 2018, www.readingeagle.com/news/article/chester-county-tax-attorney-seeks-gop-nod-for-6th-district-seat.
¹² Tamari, Jonathan. “Rep. Ryan Costello Won’t Seek Reelection, Boosting Democrats Opportunity.” Philly.com, 26 Mar. 2018, www.philly.com/philly/news/politics/rep-ryan-costello-wont-seek-reelection-boosting-dem-opportunity-20180325.html.
¹³ Greg McCauley for Congress, mccauleyforcongress.com/.
¹⁴ Rucker, Philip. “Trump, Stumping in Nevada, Makes Immigration a Central Midterms Issue for GOP.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 23 June 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-stumping-in-nevada-makes-immigration-a-central-midterms-issue-for-gop/2018/06/23/a715e5cc-7653-11e8-805c-4b67019fcfe4_story.html.
¹⁵ “Who Qualifies for a Work Permit in the United States?” AllLaw.com, www.alllaw.com/articles/nolo/us-immigration/who-qualifies-for-work-permit-united-states.html.
¹⁶ Lozano, Alicia Victoria. “Longtime GOP Rep. Bows Out in Pa. Race. Now What?” NBC 10 Philadelphia, 26 Mar. 2018, www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/First-Time-Republican-Candidate-Greg-McCauley-Jockeying-to-Replace-Chester-County-Rep-Ryan-Costello-477967483.html.
¹⁷ Davies, Dave. “Chester County GOP Candidate, 61, Named ‘Young Gun’ for Congress.” WHYY, 28 May 2018, whyy.org/articles/chester-county-gop-candidate-61-named-young-gun-for-congress/.
¹⁸ Banjo, Shelly. “Hillary Clinton Wants to Get Rid of Student Loans to Pay for Public College Tuition.” Quartz, 10 Aug. 2015, qz.com/476292/hillary-clinton-wants-to-get-rid-of-student-loans-to-pay-for-public-college-tuition/.
¹⁹ Bowman, Bridget. “Pennsylvania Officials Weigh Backing GOP Candidate for Costello’s Seat.” Roll Call, 28 Mar. 2018, www.rollcall.com/news/politics/pa-officials-ryan-a-costello-seat.