Updated 11:50 a.m.
Most people in Pennsylvania would be hard-pressed to name a single state lawmaker outside their own district. Rep. Daryl Metcalfe might be the sole exception.
The vocally anti-gay Republican has made national headlines, and the race to unseat him on Nov. 6 has galvanized interest more than 300 miles away from his Butler County office. On Thursday, Pa. Rep. Brian Sims, a national LGBTQ icon who has sparred with Metcalfe in Harrisburg for years, co-hosted a fundraiser in Center City with dozens of his supporters in Philadelphia.
Dubbed “Vote Hate Out of Harrisburg,” the $50- to $250-per-person event was held specifically to raise money for Metcalfe’s latest Democratic opponent, Daniel Smith Jr., a banking industry vet who is gay. While Metcalfe has easily vanquished his Democratic rivals in the past, Sims and his cadre of supporters see Smith as a chance to oust the inflammatory lawmaker once and for all.
“We have a chance to topple the biggest bigot in the legislature,” Sims told the crowd. “We have a chance to collect the first scalp that we’ve collected in my time in the legislature.”
National attention for ‘being an ass’
At the fundraiser, Sims revved up the crowd with mentions of some of the most memorable moments from Metcalfe, who did not return a request for comment today.
First elected in 1998, the nine-term Republican has a notoriously fraught relationship with Democrats, immigrants, Philadelphia, liberal losers, and unions, but his vitriol toward LGBTQ people has been especially notable. He infamously refused to allow Sims to speak on the House floor because of “God’s law,” called Sims a “lying homosexual,” and proudly declared his heterosexuality after a male lawmaker touched his arm. As a committee chair, Metcalfe has refused calls to bring up a bill that would extend discrimination protections to LGBTQ people. He also wanted to ban same-sex marriage in the state and sued a gay couple in Bucks County who sought to get a marriage license. He once voted against a domestic violence resolution because it mentioned male rape victims.
At the fundraiser, Smith told his Philly audience that he first thought about jumping into the race after Metcalfe’s “don’t touch me” moment. But that’s not what’s driving him forward, he told Billy Penn, explaining that his campaign is focused on basics like expanding a road that cuts through his district and improving on his opponent’s chilly relationship with local Republican supervisors.
Local-focused or not, Smith’s campaign has resonated beyond Pennsylvania with people who believe he could finally depose Metcalfe. He recently received a $1,000 donation from Hollywood, Calif., he said.
Smith’s sexuality has been weaponized by his opponent. “He has already attracted national attention because he is homosexual,” Metcalfe wrote of Smith in a fundraising letter, which also noted a $10,000 donation from prominent LGBTQ donor Mel Heifetz. Metcalfe later described Heifetz as a “Philadelphia homosexual.”
Smith, who has been with his husband Don for 14 years, told Billy Penn Metcalfe’s behavior is almost “comical” at this point.
“My being gay has not garnered national attention. Him being an ass has garnered national attention,” Smith told the crowd at the fundraiser.
Support for clergy abuse victims
Smith has also been embraced by prominent elected officials in Western Pa. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. were among the hosts at a recent fundraiser for Smith, with suggested donations between $100 and $2,500.
But even with out-of-district support, winning won’t be easy.
Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 10,000 voters in House District 12. In the past, Metcalfe has beaten Democratic (and Republican) opponents by wide margins, and has a nearly $130,000 war chest at his disposal.
Smith, meanwhile, said he’s spending every penny he brings in to build a strong campaign team. He’s been personally knocking on Republicans’ doors since the primary (his campaign has knocked on 11,000 total, he said). Some of those doors have been slammed in his face, but he’s also finding voters who believe “local issues aren’t partisan issues” and may be open to voting for a Democrat.
One high-profile incident that’s been swaying voters? The clergy sex abuse scandal.
District 12 includes North Catholic High School, which until recently was named for Cardinal Donald Wuerl, whose handling of accused priests was criticized in a bombshell grand jury report. (He resigned today.) Metcalfe was one of just 21 lawmakers who voted against a bill that would create a two-year window that would give now-adult victims a chance to sue.
Smith said his “100 percent” support for lifting the statute of limitations has gotten his foot in more than a few doors.
“I honestly feel it’s going to be close either way,” Smith said of the race’s outcome, adding that he thinks District 12’s constituents are “done with being embarrassed and done with being ignored.”