Democratic hopefuls cite Jan. 6 as main reason to challenge Scott Perry

US Rep. Scott Perry (R-York) speaking at the launch of the Pennsylvania House Freedom Caucus on Nov. 28, 2023 in the Pennsylvania State Capitol. (Photo: Sean Kitchen)

By Sean Kitchen

January 8, 2024

Two Democratic frontrunners looking to challenge Congressman Scott Perry in November cite the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol as one of their main reasons to run against the congressman.

Democratic voters living in South Central Pennsylvania are starting 2024 with one common goal in mind: defeating Congressman Scott Perry (R-York). 

Perry has been a white whale of sorts for Democrats, who are always enthusiastic about the prospects of beating the congressman but always end Election Day with the same results. The closest Democrats came to defeating Perry was in 2018 when George Scott, a local pastor and Army veteran, lost to Perry by 2.6%.

The 2024 primary season for Democrats is underway in Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District.  

Janelle Stelson and Mike O’Brien, two early favorites in the primary, participated in a candidate forum with Capital Region Stands Up at the Harrisburg Bridge Club in Camp Hil onl. Stelson is a longtime regional news anchor while O’Brien is a retired Marine veteran and TOPGUN pilot. 

Both candidates have been cited by the Cook Political Report and Roll Call as examples why they downgraded Perry’s reelection chances from “likely republican” to “lean republican.” They both cited Perry’s legal issues surrounding his attempt to overturn the 2020 election as well.

Over 150 people packed the gaming hall on Sunday to listen to the two candidates speak as they were given 20 minutes to introduce themselves to the voters and 20 minutes to take questions. 

Both candidates faced questions about their residency. Stelson, who currently lives outside the district, explained how she spent decades living and working in the Harrisburg region as a TV anchor, while O’Brien, who moved to the Harrisburg area in August, is originally from the Philadelphia suburbs and cited spending time with his wife’s family as his connection to the area when serving in the military. 

Stelson kicked off the evening and used her reporting experience to connect with the crowd and stated that the attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021 and watching the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade were two of the reasons why she’s running for office. 

“So January 6th, overturning our votes, 2020. These are the things that started making me think about, boy, we got to get somebody else in there who can really do this,” Stelson said to the onlookers.

“Then in 2022, I was live on the set when the Supreme Court handed down the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v Wade and basically had to look out again into the camera in my best non-partisan way and tell every woman watching that her rights had been rolled back 50 years. And that took a chunk out of my heart,” Stelson continued.

The former news reporter admitted that she wouldn’t be running for office if Perry wasn’t the challenger. 

“Probably not,” Stelson said. “I love my job. He’s a threat to democracy and I’m not okay with that, and I leapt off a big cliff to do this.”

Just as Stelson talked about her career as a former journalist, O’Brien used the majority of his opening remarks to talk about his military service and how that could translate into a nomination to challenge the embattled congressman.

The former Marine recounted how he was watching the events of Jan. 6, 2021 unfold throughout the day as he was in the process of moving to San Diego for his former job. 

“At that point, it became personal for me,” O’Brien told the packed room. 

“And no longer could I watch Donald Trump and Scott Perry attempt to overthrow our democracy under the guise of patriotism. It was time to step up and it was time to do something about it. So at that point, I made a pledge as soon as I could retire and get out here, get back here to Pennsylvania and do something about it, I would.”

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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