If you read the text message straight — no reading between the lines — one would have to believe Democrats in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives are upset that Republicans aren’t pushing harder for legislation requiring voter ID.
Take, for example, this text Democrats sent to constituents in Republican State Rep. Martina White’s district in Philadelphia.
“This week in Harrisburg, your State Rep. Martina White voted against bringing election integrity to our voting systems by requiring ALL voters to show ID at the polls. Can we count on you to vote AGAINST Martina White next year?” the message says (emphasis original).
The last line of the message indicates it was sent by the Pennsylvania House Democratic Campaign Committee (PA HDCC), dedicated to electing Democrats into House seats in order to create a Democratic majority. Broad + Liberty also obtained a copy of an identical text sent to constituents in Rep. Seth Grove’s (R – York) district.
In a social media post, White exclaimed, “Happy Opposite Day, Pennsylvania!”
“Since when do these guys care about election integrity anyways? Hey, HDCC, if you’re ready to ACTUALLY pass real election integrity reforms, call me, my line is always open!”
Republicans have been pushing for voter ID for years, so what’s going on here?
State Rep. Bryan Cutler, a Lancaster Republican and leader of the GOP House caucus, says the latest tactic of the HDCC is to attack Republicans from the right, not the left. The ads are trying to gain an edge not by trying to persuade voters to believe in Democratic policies or solutions, but instead are trying to undermine a Republican’s support in their own party by portraying them as weak on a conservative issue.
And in this case, Cutler says Senate Bill 224 was the weapon.
The bill started out in the Republican-controlled Senate and definitely included a provision for voter identification.
But when it made it to the House, majority Democrats had no trouble tacking on an amendment that was completely disagreeable to Republicans.
When Republicans voted ‘No,’ that’s when the text blasts went out, with Democrats blaming Republicans for not being Republican enough.
“We’ve seen similar tactics this session already on the issues of gun control as well as education funding, where they [Democrats] would do targeted communications in the districts of vulnerable members, districts that they could potentially pick up,” Cutler added. “But we’ve also seen them target individuals, which presumably could only be to try to gin up a primary opposition so that we have less resources in the fall to take back the majority.”
The issue came up in October, when the ABC affiliate in Harrisburg noticed the oddity, and asked Rep. Nick Pisciottano (D – Allegheny), the vice chairman of the PA HDCC, if the strategy was fully above board.
“These attacks and these messages that get out there are always disingenuous,” Pisciottano told ABC 27.
“Do you know how many texts and postcards are in my mailbox from dark money groups that say I hate working people,” Pisciottano said. “It’s all disingenuous.”
Reporter Dennis Owens pressed Pisciottano by asking if disingenuous tactics “turn off” the average voter.
“Yes,” Pisciottano said. “It’s toxic to our whole system of government. But it’s awful.”
Broad + Liberty’s request for comment to the staff of the PA HDCC (i.e., staff who are not elected officials) was not returned.
Cutler acknowledges that the texts are effective, based on the number of upset constituents who have reached out to him after getting the messages.
“I think [my district] was 75 percent for Trump last time, and yet they’re targeting the district because one, they know election integrity has good traction, and two, then some of the, well-intended, but not completely informed individuals assume that Harrisburg is corrupt and not working when in fact it’s the Democrats playing in our primary world,” Cutler said.
While not letting Democrats off the hook, Cutler said the tactic was also a derivative of the narrow one-person majority that still sets the two caucuses apart for control of the lower chamber.
“They are managing to the next election. They’re not managing the commonwealth,” Cutler said. “You can look at that by virtue of their light legislative load and their light schedule. And then when they do schedule bills such as this, they turn them into political footballs and they will send out political attacks on the subject matter as opposed to actually solving problems.”
The tactic is reminiscent of Pennsylvania’s 2022 gubernatorial race when it was still in the primary stage.
At that time, then-candidate Josh Shapiro released a television advertisement that highlighted some of the conservative credentials of State Rep. Doug Mastriano, who was running for the Republican nomination.
“It’s a smart play by the Shapiro campaign,” J.J. Balaban, a Philadelphia-based Democratic consultant, told the Inquirer in May 2022. “Mastriano is leading in the polls, but doesn’t have money to run TV ads that would help him run away with the nomination. By running these ads defining Mastriano as a very conservative Republican, Shapiro gets a double-benefit of making Mastriano look better with some very conservative Republican primary voters, while making Mastriano look worse with moderates who could decide the winner of the November general election.”
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use his encrypted email at email@example.com. @shepherdreports