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Democratic candidate Dwight Evans (left) and Republican candidate Bryan Leib (right). Photos: Linda Johnson / Chestnut Hill College (left) and Bryan Leib Campaign (right)
Democratic candidate Dwight Evans (left) and Republican candidate Bryan Leib (right). Photos: Linda Johnson / Chestnut Hill College (left) and Bryan Leib Campaign (right)

The race for Pennsylvania’s 3rd: Democratic Incumbent vs. Newcomer

The Pennsylvania 3rd district race pits a veteran local politician against a young Republican challenger eager to break in.

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Democratic incumbent, Dwight Evans, and his Republican challenger, Bryan Leib, are making their final pitches to voters for Pennsylvania’s new 3rd Congressional district with the midterm elections now less than a week away.

Evans, who has held elective office for almost 40 years, was sent to U.S. Congress for the first time in 2016. This is his first re-election bid, in a district that includes parts of South, West, Northwest and Center City Philadelphia.  

Speaking at a meet and greet at Chestnut Hill College on Monday, Evans, 64, stressed the importance of voting, especially for those unhappy with the current political situation in the country, a sentiment the incumbent candidate is clearly banking on.

“The real fundamental question we’ve really got to ask ourselves is, what type of a society do we want? That’s a fundamental question that all of you will partake in the next eight days with what takes place in this election,” Evans told his audience.

Employment, education and healthcare sit atop his platform agenda, he noted.

“What I like to do is generate more entrepreneurs to start more businesses because we need to grow more jobs,” he said.

He railed against the recent Republican tax cuts to drive home his positions on education and healthcare.

“You’ve heard a lot about the tax reduction. Well, does anybody in this room believe that there’s such thing as a free lunch?” he asked. “Because I just want you to be clear - you don’t get a free lunch in government.”

“The reality is the Republicans are basically saying, okay we cut your taxes but the deficit has accumulated. When the deficit accumulates, that means there is a direct connection to money that could be invested in school loans, and money that could be invested in health. What happens is with that reduction, they’re talking about attacking Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare,” he continued.

As the midterms have neared, President Trump has noticeably intensified his anti-immigrant rhetoric. He has stoked fear about the so-called ‘caravan’ of migrants fleeing difficult situations in Central America, sent thousands of troops to the border, and declared his intention to put an end to birthright citizenship.

Evans acknowledges that immigration reforms must be enacted, but he takes issue with the fear mongering.

“The immigration system needs to be fixed, there’s no debate about that. We need to have a system that assures that people have a fair, open opportunity to get into the country,” he said.

“I think that today, in spite of what you may read, there is no situation. You may have read about some caravan that’s coming in and threatening. The reality is, that’s political hype, that’s because of the election,” he continued. “They want to be viewed as a party that’s tough on an issue, but the reality is we’re all some form of immigrants.”

Leib, 33, Evans’ challenger from the GOP, is a real estate consultant who grew up in Voorhees, New Jersey. He, too, distances himself from the president’s approach on immigration.

“DACA, dreamers - 100 percent we need to create a path to citizenship [for them]. The fact that there’s gridlock between the political parties on that makes me sick,” he told AL DÍA, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that President Trump rescinded last year and has since been using as political capital to build a border wall.

“The policy with the families or groups that were being separated at the border was horrible. I spoke out against that right away. I’m glad the president heard the will of the American people, and that we as Americans didn’t agree with it and he reversed his policy on that,” he continued. “I don’t think we should build a wall. I think we should enforce our borders. I am not for open borders. I do not think that we should abolish ICE.”

A member of the Philadelphia Young Republicans, Leib plays a tune similar to that of the other Republicans running in the city’s Congressional districts. He stresses he is a moderate Republican, one who will bring an independent spirit with him to Washington. He only invokes President Trump’s name when asked directly about him.

“I am not Donald Trump. My name is Bryan Leib, and throughout this entire campaign people have tried to label me as Donald Trump. I’m not him. I’m an independent thinker and I will always do what’s right for Philadelphia and what makes sense,” Leib said.

Leib believes that the country is headed in a positive direction under Trump’s leadership, particularly when it comes to the economy.

“The economy is thriving. There are deregulations all over the place that’s driving small business growth, that’s driving manufacturing growth, that’s driving all time lows in black unemployment, Latino unemployment, women unemployment,” he said, referring to the unemployment rate of 3.7 percent as of September.

“I know sometimes it’s tough to look past the rhetoric, but if you look at metrics and you look at results, the country is on a pretty good path right now and has been since he got elected,” he added.

Leib takes a harder line on the opioid crisis. Remarking that he recently drove through hot spots of opioid activity in and around the Kensington section of Philadelphia, he suggested more law enforcement measures, and said that he is a hard pass on safe injection sites.

Evans, for his part, signaled his support for the controversial safe injection site that former Philadelphia Mayor and Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell has thrown his support behind - so long as it is part of a more comprehensive approach.

“I think it’s good that that’s on the table as a part of a solution. I’m not so sure that that is the instant solution. I think it’s one part of a solution,” Evans told AL DÍA.

“I think there’s a treatment side, I think there’s a rehabilitation side, I think those things are very important. I know particularly in the Kensington area especially that is a huge problem. [We’ve] got to work with the mayor and the governor,” he continued.

To say Leib faces an uphill climb would be an understatement. Evans won his 2016 race in the current 2nd district (the district most similar to what will be the new 3rd district) with over 80 percent of the vote, and he has received more than $1 million in donations as of September 30. By comparison, the Republican newcomer has received just over $18,000 for his campaign.

The political forecast site, FiveThirtyEight, rates the district the third most Democratic in the entire country.

Leib laments these circumstances. He wishes the Republican National Committee, which has provided no funding for his campaign, would give the district a shot.

“The message that has been given to me by national donors is, ‘You’re a great guy, you’ve got a lot of passion and everyone likes you, but you have no shot at winning,’” he said. “‘You’re in the third most Democratic district in the country and you have no shot. So, ‘attaboy, we appreciate you running but there’s nothing we can do to help you.’”

Despite this, Leib argues he’s the fresher face Philadelphians need, contrasting himself with the career politician he’s running against.

“My opponent has been elected longer than I’ve been alive,” he said. “He’s been an elected official for 38 or 39 years. How is that healthy for a democracy? We need new ideas.”  

Evans, meanwhile, notes the advantages his decades-long experience in public office affords him, and he urges voters to consider what the Republican party has become today.

“This is not the Republican party that I knew when I grew up. It’s a different party. I’m just explaining to you the name of this game,” Evans said. “The political process is you must negotiate and you must compromise.”

The midterm elections are next Tuesday, November 6.

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