GOP Primary Battle Brews As Brian Fitzpatrick Faces Off Against Mark Houck

The GOP primary is being contested.

Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick and candidate Mark Houck.

A high-stakes battle is set for the Republican primary in the First Congressional District where incumbent Brian Fitzpatrick is facing off against Mark Houck.

Despite the near silence from both campaigns in response to media inquiries, the race has intensified as the primary approaches. Fitzpatrick has long had the rule of refusing to talk to local press and his staff largely follows that policy. Several news organizations, including TV and print outlets, recently noted that the candidate did not respond to them ahead of primary election day.

Fitzpatrick had primary challengers in all his past elections and he won the primaries.

Fitzpatrick, a Middletown Township resident, has a campaign account of $3.6 million going into the month. Houck, a Haycock Township resident and anti-abortion activist, reported having just over $11,000 in the bank.

The winner of the Republican primary is expected to face Democrat Ashley Ehasz, a U.S. Army veteran and two-time candidate, who is set to secure her party’s nomination. She lost to Fitzpatrick by nearly 10 percentage points in 2022.

The GOP challenger to Fitzpatrick has been vocal about his conservative credentials in the largely moderate district, which spans Bucks County and parts of Montgomery County.

Houck, an anti-abortion activist, has been actively campaigning to Republicans who believe Fitzpatrick’s moderate stance does not align with the district’s conservative values. Houck has aligned himself with the Make America Great Again movement supported by former President Donald Trump.

Houck’s campaign platform includes promises to reduce the size of government, strengthen the military, and support veterans. Houck is also vocal about his opposition to what he terms the “woke” military and seeks to address issues of fatherhood in relation to crime.

Mark Houck testifying before a congressional committee.

Houck called the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Education part of an “unconstitutional” set of programs and he has said he “supports energy independence.” He also has pledged to fight illegal immigration and “rebuild the foundations of faith, family, and freedom.”

Houck, a former teacher and juvenile correction facility staff member in Bucks County, led The King’s Men, a ministry aimed at young Catholic men.

With abortion shaping up to be a major issue again, Houck has said he would “defend all human life at all stages of development” and said he was against exceptions for rape and incest.

Fitzpatrick has a softer tone on abortion and has called for some restrictions, but he has not strongly supported a full ban, as some in his party have pushed for in recent years. In 2023, Fitzpatrick said he didn’t think it was “wise” for Republicans to support more restrictive abortion bills in the wake of the overturning of Roe. v. Wade.

Fitzpatrick has worked since 2016 to paint himself as a moderate Republican choice who has not been afraid to work with Democrats on some issues.

Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick speaking at a conference in Washington D.C. in 2019.
Credit: AFGE

Compared to Houck, Fitzpatrick has stated more moderate views on abortion and has emphasized his FBI special agent background as key for fixing what he has described as a “broken Washington.” He supports term limits for Congress but refuses to say how long he will serve, supported more resources for combating drug crimes and opioid deaths, has pushed for more military aid for Ukraine, and has campaigned on protecting civil rights, including those of LGBTQ residents.

Fitzpatrick has called for increasing workforce training, supported more funding for education, and allow for reforms to student debt laws. The congressman said he has a “special responsibility to care for and protect our natural resources at the local, state, and federal level.” He has said climate change is a “strain” on health and more has to be done to “combat climate change and rebuild our crumbling infrastructure.”

Fitzpatrick voted against impeaching Trump twice, but he denounced the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

Houck has said on social media that he would support Trump, while Fitzpatrick has avoided the issue in recent years. However, Fitzpatrick was endorsed by Trump in 2020.

The primary race has not been without controversy.

In the lead up to the election, Houck has targeted Fitzpatrick for participating in the New Hope Celebrates Pride Parade in years past.

Fitzpatrick’s campaign has purchased ads calling Houck a “porn addict,” “con artist,” narcissist,” and said he “hates law enforcement.” The Fitzpatrick campaign has focused, citing a New Jersey police report, on an incident where Houck was arrested outside of a strip club two decades ago and raised questions about funds raised for him in recent years.

Houck, in a statement posted to Facebook, said he has helped shut down “sex-oriented businesses” and knows the “dehumanizing effects of the pornography industry.”

Houck hit back at claims that money raised for his past legal defense was his “private bank account.” He said it was put in a trust and no money has been touched. He admitted to his legal costs were paid for by another group, which meant the $400,000 raised for his family didn’t have to be used for attorney fees.

“Representative Fitzpatrick’s curious blend of inaction, hypocrisy, and misrepresentation demonstrates why he is not the candidate the First District can afford to keep in Congress,” Houck said.

Houck was arrested in 2022 by FBI special agents and his home was searched. The incident sparked significant controversy among conservatives, with claims of political persecution by President Joe Biden’s administration. Those claims were denied by federal officials. Houck was charged for a Philadelphia assault outside of an abortion clinic, but he was acquitted in the case.

The eyes of the nation are on Bucks County in 2024 as the outcome of the primary could signal significant shifts in the broader political landscape. The race between Fitzpatrick and Houck reflects national tensions within the Republican Party.

About the author

Tom Sofield

Tom Sofield has covered news in Bucks County for 12 years for both newspaper and online publications. Tom’s reporting has appeared locally, nationally, and internationally across several mediums. He is proud to report on news in the county where he lives and to have created a reliable publication that the community deserves.