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DePasquale who? Dem candidate for Pa.'s 10th District hits road as name recognition lags

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch

State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale kicked off a district-wide small business tour in York City on Saturday as he ramps up his 10th Congressional District campaign and tries to boost his brand.

The York native running against U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Carroll Township, was met by business owners struggling through the pandemic, just as polling shows him struggling with name recognition.

Democratic congressional candidate Eugene DePasquale, left, of North York borough, elbow bumps co-owner Jason McGarry, of Cornerstone Barbershop during a walkthrough of local businesses in York City, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“We feel like that (name recognition) issue will be resolved very shortly after some events like this and just a couple weeks of television (ads),” DePasquale said. “The reality is that it’s going to be a very close race.”

More:York County has two new deaths linked to COVID-19, 48 new cases

More:Poll: Quarter of voters unfamiliar with congressional challenger DePasquale

Recent polling shows Perry and DePasquale in a statistical tie, despite the fact that 24% of 10th District voters said they were unfamiliar with the auditor general — mirroring the results of a July poll commissioned by his campaign.

On Saturday, DePasquale said the fact that the race is so close despite that name recognition disadvantage is encouraging, as “we’re going to be in the lead” once he gets his name out more.

His campaign had not aired any television ads until last week.

Although some district residents might not be familiar with him, name recognition likely isn't a big issue for DePasquale in York City.

He served as the city's director of economic development in the early 2000s and represented York while holding the 95th District seat in the state House from 2007 to 2013.

The congressional hopeful hit it off with York City business owners during Saturday's leg of the tour, chatting with them about their struggles while greeting locals as they walked by.

One message DePasquale heard repeatedly: The business owners have not received the aid they need during the pandemic that forced many to close and hampered the operations of those that remained open.

Specifically, some said small businesses seem to have been largely left out of programs aimed at bolstering the economy, such as the federal Paycheck Protection Program.

"That's unacceptable," DePasquale said. "The reason why so many people in the general public were supportive of it was because they thought the small businesses were going to be first in line. My approach would be if there's another wave and I'm in Congress, we have to fight to make sure that's not the way it goes."

Melissa Rosario, co-owner of Cornerstone Barbershop, said her bank wasn't processing PPP applications during the first round of funding — and one state lawmaker encouraged her to disobey Gov. Tom Wolf’s business closure orders to keep money flowing in.

She would not name the lawmaker, and DePasquale said the idea lawmakers would suggest such a thing had him “dumbfounded and shocked.”

“When I hung up that phone call (with a state lawmaker), I just started crying and told my husband that it feels like we’re truly on our own,” Rosario said, fighting back tears. “It was a really difficult time.”

Her business was, however, able to apply for the second round of PPP funding, she said.

Democratic congressional candidate Eugene DePasquale, of North York borough, tours businesses in York City, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Rosario said she doesn’t expect to receive help even if another wave of aid comes — something that has been put on the back burner due to partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill.

Sabrina Thomas, owned of Sniffany's of York, also said she has had trouble receiving aid from programs, specifically the state's Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.

"I've sent hundreds of emails, you name it," Thomas said. "It's been a nightmare."

DePasquale also took time at i-ron-ic Coffee Shop to speak about his home county's recent struggles with COVID-19 cases, which have surged in August.

On Friday, WellSpan York Hospital banned most visitors in response to the increases, and the state Health Department noted that York County had the seventh highest positivity rate in the state.

"These pandemics, once they get in, they're a two-year process until it's completely gone," DePasquale said, referencing the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. "We're going to have to figure out ways to manage that." 

From left, congressional candidate Eugene DePasquale, of North York borough, speaks to Cornerstone Barbershop co-owners Jason McGarry, Melissa Rosario, and co-owner David Smith, of i-ron-ic Coffee Shop & Art Boutique during a walkthrough of local businesses in York City, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

He said that despite the rising numbers, he is "willing to give it a shot" when it comes to schools reopening with in-person instruction at some level because he's seen the negative impact of online-only schooling. 

The Democrat and Perry have disagreed over the likelihood of children infecting teachers with COVID-19 upon their return, with Perry saying that, "generally speaking," kids won't transmit the virus. 

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DePasquale, though, said on Saturday that denying the possibility of transmission is "living in a fantasy land."

Concerns about retirees also surfaced during Saturday's tour, highlighting Trump's payroll tax holiday within his executive order, which Democrats have said will gut Social Security and Medicare.

DePasquale has said he doesn’t necessarily oppose the idea of a tax holiday, but rather the impact on the social programs that heavily rely on payroll taxes.

Perry, on the other hand, has insisted Trump's decision benefits businesses and the unemployed while chalking up opposition to partisanship.

The 10th Congressional District race is expected to be one of the most competitive in the country and has been rated as a toss-up by The Cook Political Report and Politico.

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.