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August 27, 2016

What's a candidate to do when the party doesn't want him?

When the pack deserts you, it's time to go the lone wolf route

In 2010, Democrats practically begged Congressman Joe Sestak not to run for Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate seat and challenge incumbent Sen. Arlen Specter, who had just switched over from the Republican Party to run again. But despite President Barack Obama sending former President Bill Clinton to offer Sestak a job to coerce him into dropping out of the primary, Sestak stayed in the race.

Sestak won, eventually losing to Pat Toomey in the general election. He embraced the role of Washington outsider, something he did again last year when the Obama administration threw its weight behind Katie McGinty in the Democratic primary for Senate.

"As a leader, it is only about having the people’s 6 (military speak for "have your back), and because I have theirs, they will have mine," Sestak told supporters at the time. With the president's support, McGinty won.

Politically, what choice did Sestak have? In that situation, the most obvious tactic was to position himself as his own man — not a vessel of his party.

That's more or less the conundrum of Mike Parrish, Democratic candidate for the U.S. House. The Malvern businessman is running to challenge first-term U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello in Pennsylvania's Sixth District, which covers parts of Chester, Montgomery, Berks and Lebanon counties.

Parrish secured the Democratic nomination after his only challenger, Lindy Li, dropped out in April. But if the party had its way, Parrish wouldn't be the one carrying the torch in a district that's almost evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

That's according to documents recently leaked to The Hill by hacker Guccifer 2.0, which show the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee preferred small businesswoman Marian Moskowitz. 

In December 2015 and January 2016, the party started getting worried. Parrish had raised a measly $30,000, and according to additional documents posted to the Guccifer 2.0 blog, there were concerns about Parrish being named in several civil lawsuits and that he previously had been a registered Republican who donated to GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and John McCain.

According to the documents obtained by The Hill, the DCCC seriously started pushing Moskowitz to enter the race. They wrote up talking points for Democratic officials to urge her to run. But Moskowitz, a friend of Costello's wife, opted not to start a campaign.

The leak has plenty of implications. For starters, as The Hill notes, while it's not unusual for either party's campaign committees to try and push for one candidate, the documents "offer interesting details on the lengths at which the House Democratic campaign arm went to field its Pennsylvania roster." Additionally, Guccifer 2.0 is assumed by many to be an arm of Russian intelligence — the blog claimed responsibility for the DNC hack that exposed a pro-Clinton/Anti-Sanders slant among some staffers.

But back to Parrish. His campaign already was struggling for cash (In June, after the DCCC's attempt to replace him, Costello had $1.4 million in campaign cash compared to Parrish who had $44,731). Several organizations that monitor elections project the district is likely or safe to stay Republican.

He already was in a hole. How do you approach this?

"I am not running for Congress to represent Washington insiders," Parrish said in a statement to the Lebanon Daily News after the leak. "I am running to represent the people of the Sixth District."

As if it wasn't clear the first time, he continued in his statement to the paper: "My loyalty is to the people of the Sixth District and all Americans, not to the party establishment in Washington or special interests."

Even the most casual political observer has seen this maneuver front-and-center this election season. Donald Trump has routinely bashed his own party while its operatives tried to block him anyway they could (That, obviously, didn't work).

When the pack doesn't want you, go the lone wolf route, the political playbook reads. "It's about the people, not the party," or some variation of that quote. Parrish's circumstances — a hack potentially orchestrated by foreign entities — may have been unusual. But his response was Politics 101.