PA-19: Prosperity on Hallowed Ground

(a recurring series, for all click here) For Pennsylvania’s last congressional district, we travel to the southern border with Maryland, which used to form the Mason-Dixon Line, which once separated the free North with the slave South. This district encompasses all of Adams and York counties, and parts of Cumberland County. Most of the district is rolling farmlands, and includes pockets of Amish settlement in York County . The population centers are Hanover, Gettysburg and York to the south, while Carlisle and Mechanicsburg top out the northern end of the district, which juts out towards Harrisburg. However, most of the population is in York County, which is one of the fastest growing areas in the Northeast, and the county is home to many who commute to nearby Baltimore. The tourism industry surrounding Gettysburg, perhaps one of the most visited battlefields in the Western Hemisphere, contributes a large part of the districts economic output. Other major employers are major pretzel companies like Hanover and Utz, and motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson, which remains as one of the last major manufacturing operations in the state. The 19th is the second most Republican district in Pennsylvania, and the Republican Party was born among the hardy German immigrants who settled here among the rolling farmlands centuries ago. The district gave Bush 64% in 2004, a 3% increase from 2000, which means that Democrats largely do not bother competing here. Former incumbents include Bill Goodling, who served for the better part of three decades and chaired the Education and Workforce committees before retiring in 2000. Goodling’s successor is Todd Platts, a Republican from York who was elected in 2000. Before being elected, Platts practiced law in the area and served four terms in the state House. When Goodling retired, a number of Republicans jumped in the race, and Platt was widely perceived as more moderate. Despite Goodling endorsing one of his opponents and being outspent, Platt won the primary by a slim 4% running on a slogan of “Putting the People First”. He proceeded to defeat the Democratic nominee by an overwhelming majority, propelling him to the seat. Since then, he has faced little opposition, going unopposed by a Democrat in 2002 and 2004. In the House, Platt has composed a moderate voting record that sharply contrasts his district, and he has joined the Republican Main Street Partnership, a caucus that usually features vulnerable Republicans like Charlie Dent or Jim Gerlach. This has not sparked much resentment in his district except for a perfunctory primary challenge in 2002. In keeping with his predecessor, he joined the Workforce and Education Committees and has expressed interest in oversight roles for the federal bureaucracy. Platts was opposed in 2006 by York School Board President Phil Avillo, and only took 64% or the vote despite no notable opposition. Despite this, Platts is not vulnerable, as the overwhelming Republican lean of the district will prevent any upset. Avillo has filed to run against Platts once again this year, but has raised little money of note and is unlikely to pose a serious threat. Platts has not even bothered to raise money for this cycle, and only has $74,000 on hand. Platts will cruise to victory, and he will likely hold this seat for as long as he wishes. District Statistics 2006 Election Todd Platts(R)- 64% Phil Avillo(D)- 33% 2004 Election Todd Platts(R)- 91% Charles Steel(Green)- 4% Bush(R)- 64% Kerry(D)- 36% 2000 GOP Primary Todd Platts- 33% Al Masland- 29% Dick Stewert- 19% Sources: Wikipedia Michael Barone’s Almanac OpenSecrets

 

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PA-18: Bitters and Burbs

(a recurring series, for all click here) Forming a jagged, irregular stretch of land that extends from the border with Ohio to the jaw of the 12th District, Pennsylvania eighteenth congressional district includes much of the upper class suburbs of Pittsburgh, along with rural areas in Washington and Westmoreland counties. Much like other districts in the area, this district suffered large job losses in previous decades, and many of the people who live in the working class areas outside the city are descended from the blue-collars that built the Gateway Arch and so many other steel structures. Much of the district today is composed of service jobs, with the Pittsburgh Airport being a major employer. This district has the obvious appearance of a gerrymandered district, and rightly so, as like the 12th District, it was drawn with its current incumbent in mind. The 18th is Republican, but not overwhelmingly so; it gave Bush a 8 point margin in 2004, a mild improvement over his 5-point victory here in 2000. Most of the Democrats are concentrated in upper Washington County and Allegheny County, giving the rest of the district a feel much like that of the nearby 9th district. These Republican areas, along with a healthy balance in the more Democratic areas, mean that that while a Republican is a good fit, the voters will go for Democrats if need be. This district was created during the redistricting process, and it is entirely composed of areas previously represented by Democrats like Bill Coyne, Frank Mascara and Jack Murtha for decades. The redistricting Republicans completely pushed Mascara out of this district, which forced him to primary Murtha and out of a job. The incumbent here is Republican Tim Murphy, who was first elected in 2002. He started out as a well respected psychologist specializing in children, appearing on local TV stations and writing his own book on the subject. After trying his advice out on a large family of 11 children, he ran for the state Senate in 1996. By 2000, it was clear that Murphy was ready for higher office, and Republicans drew him a district in the Pittsburgh suburbs. He was well respected in the area, and won by 20 points against educator Jack Machek. In the House, Murphy has earned a conservative record, and has specialized in proposing reforms in the treatment of the mentally disabled. He has been a strong proponent of the War on Terror and a reliable vote on social issues, which earned him an ACU rating of 92. In 2004, Democrats did not bother to recruit a top notch candidate, which gave him a 26 point victory over newcomer Mark Boyles. In 2006, Murphy was hit by allegations that he was misusing House resources and researching constituent letters, which came out after he won in November by a narrower victory of 16 points. It was revealed in the coming months that he was under FBI investigation, but no wrongdoing was ever found. CREW listed him as one of the most ‘corrupt’ members in Washington, but the story seems to have fizzled as Murphy barely received a slap on the wrist from the Ethics Committee. The DCCC smelled blood in the water, so they searched for a top recruit to unseat Murphy. Objectively they seem to have failed, as the DCCC has been back-pedaling on its rhetoric on Murphy and the district is not among its top targets. All of the competitors in the primary raised little money and attracted little interest; even Beth Hafer, daughter of former Republican Barbara Hafer, received little support. The eventual winner, businessman and veteran Steve O’Donnell, has a very steep hill in front of him if he hopes to capture this seat. <O’Donnell has only raised $30,000 in individual contributions up until now, and he ended April with only a quarter of what Murphy had, most of it his own money. O’Donnell starts out the general election with little more than a typical doomed challenger, which means it will be an uphill battle for him to even hold Murphy to a 10 point victory. This is another sign of the Democrat’s over performance in Pennsylvania in 2006, which has forced them to defend other seats rather than focus on vulnerable incumbents in PA-15, PA-4 or here. Barring a negative development for Murphy, this should be a safe hold for the Republicans, in a year where there could be few like it. District Statistics 2006 Election Tim Murphy(R)- 58% Chad Kluko(R)- 42% 2004 Election Tim Murphy(R)- 63% Mark Boyle(D)- 37% Bush(R)- 54% Kerry(D)- 46% 2002 Election Tim Murphy(R)- 60% John Machek(D)- 40% Sources: Wikipedia Michael Barone’s Almanac Politics1

 

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PA-17: Of Chocolate and Capitols

(a recurring series, for all click here) For our seventeenth congressional district, we move slightly north from the Amish farmland of Lancaster, to the banks of the Susquehanna and the anthracite coal regions to the northeast. The district includes all of Dauphin, Schuylkill and Lebanon counties and parts of Berks and Perry counties, including the population centers of Harrisburg, Pottsville and Lebanon. The 17th District features many icons of Pennsylvania, from the largest state capitol in the country, to the Hershey factory, which draws millions of dollars from tourism every year. The coal mines to the north were once part of massive coaling areas of eastern PA, but they are now in economic transition like much of the rest of small-town Pennsylvania. The Pottsville area is also well known as the hometown for Yuengling beer, which still operates in the state to this day. Most of the district outside of Schuylkill County has strong Republican roots, and the Democrats that do manage to get elected are usually socially conservative. Unions are not as strong here as they are in the Philadelphia suburbs, but they do play an important role in Schuylkill County. The major city in the District, Harrisburg, is one of the few cities in the state with a strong Republican history, as it once played host to one of the largest Republican machines in the country for close to eighty years. The city and the surrounding Dauphin County still have a large GOP advantage, despite electing Stephan Reed mayor for over two decades. The district as a whole voted for Bush the past two cycles, with 56% and 58% in 2004 and 2006 respectively. Former Congressmen include 20-year incumbent George Gekas and 24-year incumbent Gus Yatron. The current incumbent is Congressman Tim Holden, a Democrat from St. Clair. Before entering Congress, Holden sold insurance for his family business and served as the sheriff for Schuylkill County. Holden has been in Congress since 1993, first winning election in the old 6th congressional district with 52%. He won his succeeding five elections with little or no opposition, until Republicans in the Legislature decided his district would be moved to the Philadelphia suburbs, which mean that most of his district, including his home in Schuylkill, was added to the adjacent 17th District. This set up a contest between the incumbents of both districts, Republican George Gekas and Democrat Holden. Gekas was 71 at the time, and had not visited or campaigned in his district for over a decade. Holden portrayed Gekas as out of touch with the needs of the district, and this image was advanced by Gekas’s feeble campaign that ended up coming too late. Holden beat Gekas 51-49, and won significant percentages in his opponent’s base. In 2004, Republicans failed to field a strong candidate, ending up with Scott Paterno, son of Penn State coach Joe Paterno, who ran another feeble campaign, ending up with under 40% of the vote in this heavily Republican district. Likewise, in 2006 the GOP candidate, Matt Wertz, dropped out a month before the election, which gave Holden a free pass to win over 65% of the vote in a landslide. In Congress, Holden has successfully portrayed himself as a moderate, staying out of highly charged partisan battles and joining the conservative Blue Dog collation of Democratic congressmen. Holden has been a strong voice for unions, and has successfully sent millions in agriculture subsidies back to his district. The NRCC did not devote serious resources to this district after being defeated three times, which included seeing it’s favorite, Matt Wertz, withdraw because of health concerns and poor fundraising. Since Holden’s 2002 victory, many local Republicans have openly supported him, making any attempt to unseat him an uphill battle. However, the Republican that stepped up this cycle was former state cop Toni Gilhooley, who was not considered a top pick, but was the only Republican to decide to run. Gilhooley’s fundraising indicates that this race will not be competitive, as she did not even compete with Holden dollar terms, only raising $34,000 thus far. Holden’s roots here are deep, and it is unlikely that Gilhooley will even be able to hold Holden to a 10-point victory with that little money. The NRCC, unlike the DSCC, is not flush with cash, so it is unlikely that it will be able to send any resources into what should be a safe GOP seat. District Statistics 2006 Election Tim Holden(D)- 65% Matt Wertz(R)- 35% 2004 Election Tim Holden(D)- 59% Scott Paterno(R)- 39% Bush(R)- 58% Kerry(D)- 42% 2002 Election Tim Holden(D)- 51% George Gekas(R)- 49% Sources: Wikipedia Michael Barone’s Almanac Politics1

 

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PA-16: Lancaster & Mushrooms

(a recurring series, for all click here) Going west out of Philadelphia, one enters the rolling farmlands and picturesque landscapes prevalent to Lancaster County, the nexus of Pennsylvania’s sixteenth district. It covers all of Lancaster and parts of Chester and Berks Counties, and includes the population centers of Lancaster, West Chester and parts of Reading. Some of the district composes the western suburbs of Philadelphia, such as wealthy areas like Chadds Ford and West Chester, but most of the population and focus of the district is in Lancaster County. The county is well known for its settlements of Amish and Mennonite farmers, who still live much like their ancestors in the 17th century, much to the derision of popular culture. Even though there are larger settlements in Ohio, Lancaster is one of the most well-known settlements, which has created a mini-tourism industry, as people from surrounding population centers travel there for one-day trips of relaxation. In real terms, however, Lancaster County and bordering areas in Chester County account for a large part of the state’s income from agriculture, and this area is well known for the mushrooms it produces. President James Buchanan came from this area, which promptly turned towards Republicans in the next election, never looking back. Lancaster County is almost exclusively dominated by Republicans, and well over half of its voting citizens are likewise registered. Republicans had dominated Chester County, but last month’s slew of Democratic registrations eliminated the GOP advantage, at least temporarily. The district gave Bush 61% of the vote in 2004, a small decrease from 2000 due to the inclusion of more Democratic areas. This area used to be represented by Congressman Bob Walker, one of Newt Gingrich’s top lieutenants, and an outspoken conservative hero who retired in 1996. Walker’s successor, Congressman Joe Pitts, may not be as well known, but he certainly is as conservative. Pitts, a Vietnam veteran, and operated a nursery before running for the Legislature in 1972. He served 24 years in the Legislature, chairing the Appropriations Committee and overseeing the restoration of the PA Capitol in 1989. He ran for Congress in 1996 for Walker’s seat, beating a moderate in the primary to defeat publisher James Blaine, descendent of the presidential candidate, by 18 points in the general. Pitt’s congressional votes are nearly all conservative and his American Conservative Union score was a perfect 100, a fact that certainly pleases the vast majority of his constituents, who have sent him back five times more, never with less than 57%. Pitts has been especially vocal on the issue of religious freedom around the world, and he has also strongly defended the sanctity of his Amish constituents by spearheading opposition to TV shows that seek to portray their life in a negative or intrusive light. Pitts had a somewhat disappointing finish in 2006 against challenger Lois Herr, only getting 57% of the vote. Despite this, the DCCC wisely has not attempted a serious challenge here in recent history, which makes perfect sense considering the makeup of the district. Pitts has a large amount of money, which he will no doubt send to Republicans elsewhere, as he will face little opposition from Lancaster resident Bruce Slater. Slater’s main claim to fame is being a community activist and building contractor. His experience in construction should prepare him for the utter electoral destruction that awaits him in November, as Pitts should steam-roll him, barring a corruption allegation. District Statistics 2006 Election Joe Pitts(R)- 57% Lois Herr(D)- 39% 2004 Election Joe Pitts(R)- 100% Bush(R)- 61% Kerry(D)- 38% 2002 Election Joe Pitts(R)- 88% Will Todd(Green)- 6% Kenneth Brenneman(CNP)- 5% Sources: Wikipedia Michael Barone’s Almanac Politics1

 

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PA-15: Iron and Coke and Chromium Steel

(a recurring series, for all click here) Running along the border with New Jersey, the small smattering of metropolitan areas about eighty miles north of Philadelphia forms the nexus of Pennsylvania’s fifteenth district. Mainly composed of Lehigh and Northampton counties and small parts of Montgomery and Berks Counties, the 15th District contains the cities of Easton, Allentown, Bethlehem and Emmaus. During the mid-century, the area was home to large industrial operations like Bethlehem Steel and MAC Trucks, but these operations moved on, leaving the area with a changing economic picture. Unions were never as strong here as they were in Philadelphia and the western end of the state, and small farmers had dominated the area prior to industrialization, which meant that the area was not impacted like those areas when the large factories left. Small businesses and white-collar industries moved in and took up the slack, as did a large group of New York City residents. The area’s largest employer is now the Lehigh Valley Hospital, and the former Bethlehem Steel campus is slated to be taken over by a casino. Historically, Allentown had always served as something of an afterthought between the large cities of Philadelphia and New York, but it has seen something of a growing role in recent years. The area has been in a boom for about the past decade, with money flowing in from the high-priced housing market and lower taxes bringing in wealthy people from New Jersey and New York. With that, however, has come increasing crime rates in all the cities of the area, and Allentown has become the center of at least one brutal gang. The District is closely divided, the most so in the state. It picked the presidential winner in the elections after 1948, and reflecting Pennsylvania’s increasing Democratic tilt, picked the Democrat the past two cycles by extremely small margins. Bush lost by only about 2500 votes in 2000, but he improved his standing in 2004, holding Kerry to a 726 vote lead. Despite this, the DCCC has not sent significant amounts of money here in years, as they have failed to recruit a top challenger since 2000. Former Congressmen include Don Ritter, Paul McHale and Pat Toomey(yeay, PAT!). The current congressman from the fifteenth district is Congressman Charlie Dent, who was first elected in 2004. Dent grew up in the area, and he went to college in nearby Penn State. After working a series of odd jobs, he ran for the State House against an incumbent Democrat in 1990 and won in a heavily Democratic district. Dent moved to the state Senate in 1998, and after serving for six years, ran to replace Pat Toomey. The 2004 election came after a series of three close fought contests, with Democrats trying to beat the popular conservative tavern owner and coming up short every time. The Democrats, deterred after pouring resources into the district against Toomey, did not seriously contest Dent’s election, running Massachusetts businessman Joe Driscoll. Driscoll was unable to get past his carpetbagger status, and Dent’s warm nature, his moderate Harrisburg record, and his ability to charm voters led him to a 59-40 victory over Driscoll. In 2006, Dent faced little opposition for re-election, sweeping aside Northampton County Commissioner Charles Dertinger by 10 points. In the House, Dent has lived up to his promises of being an independent Republican, joining the Republican Main Street Partnership and amassing a voting record of one of the most moderate Republicans in Congress. He has voted with his party only 84.2% of the time, beating out Pennsylvania colleague Jim Gerlach by only .7%. Dent has championed alternative energy programs with Gerlach, and has also been vocal in his role on the House Homeland Security Committee. The 15th District stands in sharp contrast to Jim Gerlach’s 6th District; while both are very marginal districts, Gerlach has barely won three times, while Dent’s two opponents were hardly B-list candidates, enabling him to win by 10 and 20 point margins.. Considering the layout of this district, the 2008 election gave the Democrats a chance to expand their majority here in the Lehigh Valley. However, most of the strong and respected high-profile Democrats in the area are either prepping for another run, like Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham, or simply not interested, like Sen. Boscola or Northampton Executive John Stoffa. Dent has amassed both a sizable fundraising lead, and a measure of respect as a moderate on many issues, an undeniable advantage in this closely fought district. The dearth of A-list Democrats means that the Democrats will nominate one-time mayoral candidates Siobhan “Sam” Bennett, who has failed to make impressive fundraising numbers or to generate even the least media attention. The DCCC is likely to focus on defending incumbents elsewhere, and if it does attempt to capture seats, it will not be here. Even though Dent’s 2006 win was closer than expected, especially after Democratic wave that led to the loss of about a dozen seats in PA, NJ, NY & CT, he still easily beat his opponent. Barring a Dent collapse, he should pull of another fairly large win this cycle. However, look for this district to be more competitive in 2010 and 2012, especially if Cunningham passes on a 2010 statewide run. District Statistics 2006 Election Charlie Dent(R)- 54% Charles Dertinger(D)- 44% 2004 Election Charlie Dent(R)- 59% Joe Driscoll(D)- 39% Kerry(D)- 49.9% Bush(R)- 49.6% 2002 Election Pat Toomey(R)- 57% Ed O'Brian(D)- 43% Sources: Wikipedia Michael Barone’s Almanac Politics1

 

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PA-14: On Clean Bridges

(a recurring series, for all click here) Our fourteenth congressional district returns us to the western edge of the state, to the city of Pittsburgh on the banks of the Allegheny. This district composes the entire city and several of its closer working class suburbs, like Mon Valley and Clairton. Once a center of industry, Pittsburg played host to captains of industry like Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick. US Steel once had most of its operations in the area, and for a time the city was producing a third of the world’s steel. After the steel industry collapsed in the late 20th century, the city’s economy shifted to tourism and it’s population dropped by more than half. The city, which once was one of the biggest cities in the Northeast, now is close to being surpassed by other growing cities in Pennsylvania such as Allentown. The city is also well known for both its clean streets, and its numerous types of bridges. Being a union town, Democrats have dominated city politics and those of surrounding Allegheny County since the New Deal. The city, while fairly liberal, does have an active Republican Party, and the city’s strong Catholic roots allow for a socially conservative bent to many local politicians. Bush carried 30% of the vote here in 2004. The 14th has not had a competitive election since 2000. Pittsburgh’s representative is Congressman Mike Doyle, who was first elected in 1994 to replace Rick Santorum. Doyle started out as an insurance agent before entering politics in 1977. He initially rose up through Republican ranks, eventually serving as chief of staff to state senator Frank Pecora. Doyle switched parties with his mentor in 1992, and then proceeded to run for Santorum’s district after Pecora was defeated for the same seat in 1992. His election went against the trend for that year, and he was one of only several freshman Democrats of the 104th Congress. In 2002 his district was combined with that of fellow Democrat Bill Coyne, and Coyne’s retirement was the only thing that prevented a potentially bloody primary. Doyle has kept a low profile for himself in Congress, and he is well liked in his district, even among all sometimes divisive sections of Pittsburgh. His voting record belies his Catholic origins, which makes him a good fit for his district. There are no Republicans on the ballot to challenge Doyle. Republicans have not even bothered to file against him for the past three cycles. In 2002 and 2004 he faced no opposition; in 2006 he was opposed by Green Party candidate Titus North, who garnered 10% of the vote against Doyle. Doyle’s low profile and voting record have not raised any significant opposition from within his own party, and he has not faced a primary challenge this decade. This seat will remain in Democratic hands for the foreseeable future. District Statistics 2006 Election Mike Doyle(D)- 90% Titus North(Green)- 10% 2004 Election Mike Doyle(D)- 100% Kerry(D)- 69% Bush(R)- 30% 2002 Election Mike Doyle(D)- 100% Sources: Wikipedia Michael Barone’s Almanac Politics1

 

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PA-13: More Montco & Republican Embarrassments

 (a recurring series, for all click here) Pennsylvania’s 13th Congressional district takes us back to the Philadelphia suburbs for the last time, and is the last congressional district that is in Montgomery County. The 13th district forms a long jagged box that starts out in northern Philadelphia and the border with New Jersey, and extends out into the newly settled suburbs of Montgomery County. This district, like the other congressional districts that compose the area, was once part of the vast GOP machine of Philadelphia. After the breakup of this machine in the years after the New Deal, Montgomery County stayed fairly Republican until the end of the Cold War, when it started to trend to Democrats at the national level. Despite this, Republicans dominated the county level until 2007, when Democrats made significant gains, taking advantage of a divided Republican party. However, since the district is split between Montgomery County and Philadelphia, it has been giving Democrats significant margins for almost two decades. Kerry dominated Bush here by a fairly large margin, and Bush barely increased his vote share, indicating the uphill battle the GOP has to fight to win here. Republicans did have success at retaining the seat in spite of this, electing Lawrence Coughlin for twelve terms before his retirement in 1992. Later that decade, frequent candidate Joe Hoeffel won after seeking the seat for the fourth time in twenty years, including one narrow 84 vote loss in 1996. Republicans held Hoeffel to two close victories, including a strong challenge by moderate eye doctor Melissa Brown in 2002, before he retired to run for Senate two years later. Hoeffel’s successor is current congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, who is the only female member of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation. A child of a Nazi war victim who fled Austria, Schwartz worked in the health care field before she stared her political career in 1990 with a run for state Senate. She first made a name for herself statewide with a run for the US Senate in 2000, and after finishing second in the Democratic primary, she ran to succeed Joe Hoeffel when he ran against Arlen Specter in 2004. After disposing of former Rendell aide Joe Torsella by a narrow margin in the primary, she faced Brown in the general election, and most of the election was spent on health care issues. She was given large amounts of help from lobbying groups like Emily’s List, and the two women fought the election out to the end. Schwartz defeated Brown and outraised her by three-to-one, and she won both parts of the district in the election. In Congress, Schwartz has been an advocate for national health care reform and has been a loyal Democrat on most issues. She has not singled herself out in many ways, and has maintained fairly high ratings from her constituents. Schwartz showed an impressive acumen for fundraising in the 2004 battle, raising most of her 4.5 million from individual donors and little from PACs. She has amassed a large amount in the past four years, but spent an impressive amount to defeat 2006 opponent Raj Bhakta, who mostly succeeded in destroying himself. Bhakta, was widely viewed as an embarrassment to the local party, and was widely criticized and ridiculed for his two DUI arrests and his stint on The Apprentice. Over the past year, Schwartz has well over a million to burn in the upcoming election, and with no primary opponent, she is going to have little trouble raising more. The only GOP candidate for this cycle seems to be Marina Kats, a lawyer from Abington. This sets up this election as the second in three elections to feature two women running against each other. Kats has a large personal fortune, and seems willing to burn some of that to get elected, which is almost a necessity against this popular incumbent with deep pockets and many donors. Kats will need to make a convincing argument for voters to dump this popular incumbent. She may have a hard time reaching Melissa Brown’s vote total in 2002, much less enough to win the seat. District Statistics 2006 Election Allyson Schwatrz(D)- 66% Raj Bhakta(R) 34% 2004 Election Allyson Schwartz(D)- 56% Melissa Brown(R) 41% Kerry(D)- 56% Bush(R)- 42% 2002 Election Joe Hoeffel(D)- 51% Melissa Brown(R) 47% Sources: Wikipedia Michael Barone’s Almanac Politics1

 

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PA-12: Unindicted Coconspirators

(a recurring series, for all click here) Forming a long curving line driving into the heart of Pennsylvania, our 12th congressional district returns us to the union towns and dying industry endemic of the western edge of the state. The district has the traits of gerrymandering, and includes all of only Greene County, along with slivers and bits of eight more counties. Until the New Deal, this area was strongly Republican, with the business leaders benefitting from the GOP’s strong protectionist and anti-union steel policies. The Roosevelt era along with organized labor’s encroachment into the area changed this, and as a consequence the area changed party ranks. The collapse of the manufacturing industry that once dominated the western half of the state, along with demographic trends that include the loss of most of the area’s young workers, only served to solidify this trend. The southern half of the district, which includes Democratic strongholds like Washington and Uniontown, serves as the anchor to Democratic control of the district. The northern half ventures into the Democratic suburbs of Pittsburgh, and also includes the rural towns like Johnstown and Indiana. In past times the district included most of what is now the 9th district, and it looked far different than it does today. In 2002, the old 12th was scrapped, and the GOP-controlled legislature took the old 20th district and tapped Johnstown onto it. Republican legislators drew this district for its current incumbent, and the local Republican leaders have not challenged him for control of this seat, and many seem to be content to let him stay. In 2004, Bush held Kerry to a 51-49 victory here, increasing his vote by 5%, one of his best improvements in the state. As this district is much like the 4th to the north, a Phil English-type Republican could take and hold this district. However, as we will see, the story is much more complicated. The congressman and infamous Abscam “unindicted coconspirator” is John Murtha, Pennsylvania’s most senior congressman and longtime political icon. Murtha started his life as a Marine, serving in Vietnam and rising to the rank of colonel and earning various medals in the process. After returning home in 1967, he ran for and won a State House seat, serving until 1973, when incumbent John Saylor died, opening up the seat for a special election. He narrowly won the seat that year by campaigning against Richard Nixon, and since 1973, he has not been re-elected with fewer than 58% of the vote. In 1980, he was implicated in the Abscam scandal that took down 5 of his colleagues in the House. He was recorded on video bragging to FBI agents dressed as Arab sheiks bragging about his influence. However, he wisely refused the money that they offered him, but he promised that he would consider it in the future. Murtha was “cleared” of any wrongdoing in a party-line Ethics Committee vote. Despite these troubles, he has never faced much opposition back home, as he has used his connections in both parties to pour money into his district. His home city of Johnstown has received millions in federal money in his years as congressman, and he proved that a congressman can buy off his opponents with federal largesse. Murtha has made a name for himself by dealing in the cloakroom, rarely giving public interviews or appearances. He has made a name for himself in recent years by being one of Congress’s leading critics of the war, and in 2006 he challenged Steny Hoyer, longtime nemesis for the position of Leader of the Democrats newfound majority. Despite being a protégé of speaker Pelosi, her influence was not enough to defeat Hoyer, and so the Johnstown Democrat has had to content himself with more cloakroom politics. The NRCC has never seriously tried to defeat Murtha, perhaps because of the wink-and-nod politics that still dominates Washington to this day. Diana Irey attempted to make an aggressive challenge to Murtha in 2006, but she was buried under the blue wave that swept both the state and country that year. CREW and other ethics watchdog groups have routinely rated Murtha as one of the most corrupt and blatant porkers in the country, but Murtha has the support of many Republicans in the district who have been lured over by the millions in pork he poured into the area. In 2006, even video of Murtha almost accepting a bribe did not make a dent in his popularity. Irey, despite some grassroots enthusiasm, was defeated by 22 points. This year, Murtha was set to face opposition from a young Iraq war veteran named William Russell, who attracted enthusiasm among state conservatives when he announced he would challenge Murtha. Russell had some initial success in his effort despite no help from the NRCC. However, when filing closed early last month, Russell was caught with exactly 1000 signatures. After a challenge by tow local “Republican” attorneys with links to the Murtha campaign, seven of Russell’s signatures were tossed, meaning that he will not appear on the primary ballot. Russell has not said whether he will mount a write-in campaign for the primary in April, but his battle for the seat has become much harder. If Russell drops his campaign, Murtha will likely face no opponent for the third time in his House career. Murtha has a half a million in the bank and has the capacity to out raise Russell many times over, meaning that his prospects for 2008 are much like those of Edwin Edwards in 1983.(I won’t post the famous quote here; look him up at Wikipedia) District Statistics 2006 Election John Murtha(D)- 61% Diana Irey(R) 39% 2004 Election John Murtha(D)- 100% Kerry(D)- 51% Bush(R)- 49% 2002 Election John Murtha(D)- 73% Bill Choby(R) 27% Sources: Wikipedia Michael Barone’s Almanac Politics1

 

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PA-11: On Rematches and Immigration Wars

(a recurring series, for all click here) The twin cities of Wilkes-Barre and Scranton head up the northern edge of Pennsylvania’s 11th congressional district, which is one of the more evenly shaped districts in Pennsylvania. With W-B and Scranton forming the northern Lackawanna County edge of the district, it extends to the college town of Bloomsburg on its western edge, to the border town of East Stroudsburg in Monroe County. Historically, this area was heavily dominated by coal, particularly anthracite coal, and to this day, much of the area’s politics are decided in the Locals that dominated the area for over a century. For a time, 40% of the world’s had coal was mined here, but in recent years, the coal mines have all but shut down, and this trend is best exemplified by the mining town of Centralia, where residents moved away after a fire broke out in the mines below and still blazes today. This area was largely Democratic for most of the twentieth century, with the unions dominating the local politics, both at the district and county levels. However, with the decline of the unions, and the social conservatism of the area, the area has been trending Republican lately, and its demographics are adjusting to make this district look more like the adjacent 10th and 5th districts. Tourism now plays an increasingly important role, with the skiers who flock to the slopes of the Poconos every winter expanding the local economy. The district is rated D+5 by Cook, and President Bush ran at 47% here in 2004, four points better than 2000. Former Congressman Dan Flood, who served this area off and on for almost forty years, is still a local hero, and is known for his televised messages from Washington, which appeared on television for decades. Flood was forced out when it was revealed that he took bribes, a sad end to a career of congressman who was unusually dedicated to his district. The current congressman from this area is longtime Rep. Paul Kanjorski. He is Pennsylvania’s second longest serving incumbent, only behind fellow Democrat Jack Murtha. First elected in 1984, Kanjorski’s record has closely matched the district, with him voting to favor unions and protectionism and tempering his record on social issues to avoid angering anybody back home. Kanjorski has focused on this district much like Dan Flood did, as he has forgone any plans for higher office and consistently brought home the pork. Kanjorski has only been seriously challenged for election twice, once in 1984, where he defeated his opponent by an 18-point margin. In 2002, Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta challenged him and held him to a 12 point victory, his worst showing ever. Kanjorski’s image was hurt when it was revealed that he steered millions in contracts to companies that his family had interests in. Despite this, however, Kanjorski was re-elected three times since, and he claims he was the target of a deliberate political partisan witch-hunt. The FBI briefly investigated the contracts, but apparently found little or no wrongdoing. Kanjorski has built up an enormous war chest that usually scared away any interested opponents. Republicans have been smarting about their 2002 loss, but saw potential here when Bush improved his vote share by 4 points here in 2002. After leaving Kanjorski uncontested twice, the NRCC, which wanted to put some Democratic districts in play, begged Lou Barletta to run again. The local GOP has a very small bench in this district, and as Barletta had made a name for himself in his efforts to rid Hazleton of illegal immigrants, he was asked to run as the only Republican that had a chance of unseating the 23-year incumbent. Barletta has enjoyed enormous popularity as Hazelton mayor, and was re-elected with over 90% of the vote in 2007, after a successful write-in effort got him the Democratic nomination. He has the potential to raise large amounts of money, as his efforts in support of the Illegal Immigration Relief Act have gained him national attention. Barletta still faces an uphill battle to unseat Kanjorski, as the two’s positions on illegal immigration are somewhat the same, and Barletta will have to define himself in other areas in order to win. Barletta had a late start, only entering the race days before the filing deadline. He comes into the race on the wrong side of a 1.5 million dollar deficit. If Barletta is to have a chance, he will have to quickly raise funds to correct that imbalance. Either way, he faces long odds against a popular incumbent that will not go down without a fight. District Statistics 2006 Election Paul Kanjorski(D)- 72% Joesph Leonardi(R) 28% 2004 Election Paul Kanjorski(D)- 94% Kenneth Brenneman(CNP) 6% Kerry(D)- 53% Bush(R)- 47% 2002 Election Paul Kanjorski(D)- 56% Lou Barletta(R)- 42% 1984 Election Paul Kanjorski(D)- 59% Marc Holtzman(D)-48.4% Sources: Wikipedia Michael Barone’s Almanac Politics1

 

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PA-10: The Frontline

(a recurring series, for all click here) For our tenth congressional district, we go to the expanses of the northeastern corner of the state. One of the oldest districts in the country, it has existed in somewhat similar area continuously for most of the state’s history. Containing all or part of fourteen counties, the district extends from Pike County on the border with New Jersey and Bradford County on the border with New York, to the cities of Sunbury, Williamsport and Kingston. This district is home to many New York commuters, who are attracted to the lower home prices and taxes. Many here are lifelong Republicans, and one of the founders of the Republican Party, David Wilmot, was once congressman from this area, which has favored the GOP ever since. Prior to the 2002 redistricting, the district also included much of Scranton, and was considered a district in which Democrats could win, as Clinton came within 3 point of beating Bush in 1992. Former Congressman Joe McDade, who served for 36 years, won this district by wide margins every time. After he retired in 1998, Chevy dealer Don Sherwood faced off with Pat Casey, son of PA political legend Bob Casey. One of the closest elections in that cycle, Sherwood only edged out Casey by 515 votes, and was regarded by many Republicans as a weak incumbent. As a consequence, Scranton was put in the 11th district, and Sherwood won the next two elections by a landslide. The new district had a Cook rating of R+8 and gave Bush a 20 point margin in 2004. But in 2006, dogged by revelations of a extra-marital affair and allegations of abuse, the DCCC targeted Sherwood and recruited a storng challenger, who defeated him that November. That challenger, now Congressman Chris Carney, successfully won the seat, despite the demographics of the district. He served in the Navy and has been in the Naval Reserve for 13 years, and he was sent overseas for multiple missions. When he ran in 2006, Carney campaigned on fairly conservative policies, including supporting private Social Security accounts, pro-life, pro-gun and pro-marriage. Carney is a fairly odd Democrat, in that he closely indentifies with neoconservative positions, and until 2004 he served under Douglas Feith at the Office of Special Plans. Carney won support from a wide variety of sources; for example both “neocon” Richard Perle and war opponent Jack Murtha helped him raise funds. Sherwood’s extramarital activities hurt him among the strongly conservative voters of the district, and many felt comfortable about switching over to Carney because of his socially conservative positions. However, in Congress he has not shown much bipartisanship or conservatism, and he has stayed fairly close to Nancy Pelosi, only breaking ranks when he risks angering many in his district. According to the Washington Post, Carney has voted with his party 87.3 percent of the time, which, while less than many other members, is still a fairly liberal record. He was given several strong committee positions for a freshman, but has not made a name for himself on many issues. The DCCC went into this cycle prepared for a strong Republican challenge, and put Carney into the Frontline program and gave him help fundraising. Carney has raised about a million, which while not disappointing, is much less than other PA incumbents up for large re-election battles. Carney dodged a bullet when US Attorney Marino passed on the race. Since then, the Republican contest has been divided by any number of candidates. However, as of close of filing, there remain only three candidates standing, all local businessmen; Davis Haire, Chris Hackett and Dan Meuser. The combined GOP opposition, mostly Hackett and Meuser, out raised Carney in 2007, a troubling sign for Democrats. Carney will find it an uphill battle to retain control of the district, as he has had a target on him since the day he was elected. Democrats who represent districts as red as his don’t usually survive long and while Carney has shown some skill, he is going to need to put on his game face. Hackett had raised about two thirds of a million in 2007, and he seems to be in a better position than Meuser, but the GOP race will likely go down to the wire. Whoever wins will likely get millions of dollars in aid, as the NRCC has no hope of recapturing Congress without this district. An editorial comment: I want to congratulate all three of the GOP candidates for having well designed websites, all of which look better than Carney's. It's not often you see that, especially among Republicans. District Statistics 2006 Election Chris Carney(D)- 53% Don Sherwood(R) 47% 2004 Election Don Sherwood(R)- 93% Veronica Hannevig(CNP) 7% Bush(R)- 60% Kerry(D)- 40% 1998 Election Don Sherwood(R)- 48.7% Pat Casey(D)-48.4% Sources: Wikipedia Michael Barone’s Almanac Politics1

 

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PA-9: Royalties and Vacancies in Flyover Country

(a recurring series, for all click here) Sidling along Pennsylvania southern border with Maryland is Pennsylvania’s ninth congressional district, which contains a wide area of the south-central region of the state. Containing all or parts of 15 counties, the district is the second largest in the state, and extends from Rt. 119 in Indiana County and the small city of Altoona, to Connellsville in Fayette County along the border with West Virginia and Waynesboro in Franklin County close to the Maryland border. Much of Pennsylvania’s history is contained in these Appalachian mountains and low foothills, from Shanksville, where a hijacked plane full of passengers fell into the ground, to the mines of Quecreek, where in 2002 rescuers made a headlines grabbing rescue of nine trapped miners. While a small part of this district does contain some coal mines, this district is more reliant on rail and road traffic to support its low income economy. One of the nation’s first highways, the PA Turnpike, opened here in 1940, and cut hours away from travel times, serving as the model for the later federal highway system. The regions that compose the district are solidly Republican since the civil war, but as Republicans wanted to reward John Murtha with a solidly Democratic district, the 2002 redistricting united the old 9th and large parts of the old 12th for the first time. The former congressman, Bud Shuster, who represented this district for over twenty years, retired days after the 107th Congress was inaugurated, claiming health reasons, and passed his seat onto a family member. The heir apparent was Congressman Bill Shuster, who ran in the Republican primary to succeed his father, and won with the help of his family’s ties to the district. Despite some low grumbling about political dynasties, Shuster’s opponents did not seriously contend the nomination in 2001, but Shuster only narrowly won the nomination at the district-wide convention and went on to win a narrower than expected 8 point victory in the special election. After cruising to victory in 2002, Shuster was challenged for the Republican nomination by consultant Michael Delgrasso, who criticized Shuster’s economic policies and was backed by the elements of the party that had refused to back him in 2001. Shuster won a narrow 51-49 victory over Delgrasso, but was dogged by allegations of unfair campaign practices and was later scolded by the House Ethics committee. Shuster easily won both the 2004 and 2006 general elections, but there is a clear faction of Republicans in the district, mostly those in the former 12th district, that do not owe their legacies to the Shuster name, and thus are largely uneasy with him. Shuster has maintained a fairly conservative voting record, more so than his father’s, earning a 96 from the ACU and a 5 from the ADA. But unless district lines are again shifted in 2012, many Republicans in this area will not be comfortable with Shuster, making him vulnerable to another primary challenge. As of the close of filing, though, no Republican has filed to oppose Shuster for April’s primary. Shuster has been getting as much as 71% of the vote in his general elections, and the DCCC considers this district uncompetitive. Even in 2001, when the split between Republicans was most evident, the Democrat, H. Scott Conklin, who ran a hard campaign, failed to get within five points. President Bush ran 34 points ahead of John Kerry here, and Cook rates this district as R+15, meaning a Democrat campaigning on traditional issues would find it impossible to win without a scandal or a Shuster collapse. Shuster’s 2006 opponent, Tony Barr, is the only one to file for this year’s elections. Barr who lost in 2006 by 20 points, is running on a liberal platform in a presidential year, and will likely lose by an epic margin come November. Shuster should be able to remain a Congressman for as long as he likes without fear of a Democrat unseating him, mostly because his most committed opponents are fellow Republicans. District Statistics 2006 Election Bill Shuster(R)- 60% Tony Barr(D) 40% 2004 Election Bill Shuster(R)- 69% Paul Politis(D) 30% Bush(R)- 67% Kerry(D)- 33% 2004 Primary Bill Shuster(R)- 51% Mike Delgrasso(R)- 49% 2002 Election Bill Shuster(R)- 71% John Henry(D)-29% 2001 Special Election Bill Shuster(R)- 52% H. Scott Conklin(D)- 44% Sources: Wikipedia Michael Barone’s Almanac Politics1

 

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PA-8: Bucks and a Little Moore

(a recurring series, for all click here) For the state’s eighth congressional district, we move a short distance to the Philadelphia suburbs bordering New Jersey. This district includes all of Bucks County plus small portions of Montgomery and Philadelphia counties. As is typical, Bucks County, once strongly Republican, now is trending towards Democrats. The area had always been known for its protectionism, producing Senator Grundy, who voted against Smoot-Hawley because it did not go far enough.. The district is racially homogenous and has a fairly high median income, and many of the district’s voters have post-modern concerns, like global warming. Despite this, the district’s unions still carry great power, and any political hoping to get elected at least acknowledges their presence. Bucks County is still controlled by Republicans at the local level, but they are losing control of the county none the less. This three point Democratic advantage, which means that Kerry and Rendell both have carried the district by varying margins, and makes many Republicans elected here more moderate. Jim Greenwood, the GOP congressman until 2004, represented this image well, but he retired in late 2004, forcing Republicans to choose another candidate. Conservative Mike Fitzpatrick defeated Greenwood’s handpicked successor, Joe Conti and won the election against a weak opponent, Virginia Schrader(he aired ads attacking her for screening Fahrenheit 9/11). In 2006, the Democrats fielded a stronger candidate, and despite being generally well liked, Fitzpatrick was overwhelmed by the blue wave and defeated narrowly. This district, along with the 7th, is one that the GOP will find hard to recapture because of its increasingly unfavorable demographics. The third person to hold this seat in as many elections is Patrick Murphy, the first Iraq War veteran to serve in Congress. Murphy, previously a lawyer, was recruited by national Democrats as a high-profile war veteran that could stand up credibly on the war. Fitzpatrick’s voting record was closely criticized, and his critics focused on his strong support for the President on the war. The election was fairly close all the way through, but an impressive GOTV operation by Murphy put him about 1000 votes over, defeating Fitzpatrick in a virtually dead-heat race. Murphy, like his fellow freshman Joe Sestak, has closely followed Speaker Pelosi’s lead on Iraq issues, and has a fairly liberal. Murphy was one of the freshman caught padding their vote numbers by voting against journal reports. He has voted with his party about 90 percent of the time. The closeness of the district has virtually guaranteed a strong GOP challenge. Murphy is on track to receive large amounts of assistance from the DCCC, and he has been able to perfect his organizational methods, which were a large part of his victory. Murphy has not been as successful in amassing large amounts of money as Joe Sestak, but the Republican that was initially favored to take back the seat, Fitzpatrick, deferred on the race for a State House seat, which he later pulled out of. The GOP favorite is now Tom Manion, a Marine himself who was compelled to seek office when his son was killed in Iraq. Also running for the GOP nod is businessman Jeff Madden and frequent candidate Tom Lingenfelter. Manion has been endorsed by Fitzpatrick, and he is likely going to go into the general able to eliminate Murphy’s advantage on Iraq. The NRCC had recruited Manion, and he is part of the NRCC assistance program. That said, he still has a lot of ground to cover if he hopes to unseat Murphy. This race will likely hinge on how good a candidate Manion turns out to be, and it could be competitive come November. The Presidential election makes this an even steeper climb for Manion, as he will have to overcome the traditional massive 110% Democratic turnout machine that will come out. This is a district that the GOP will need to control Congress, so if the NRCC is able to get it’s act together by November, it will need to funnel large amounts of money in order to capture the district. District Statistics 2006 Election Patrick Murphy(D)- 50.3% Mike Fitzpatrick(R) 49.7% 2004 Election Mike Fitzpatrick(R)- 55% Virginia Schrader(D) 44% Kerry(D)- 51% Bush(R)- 48% 2002 Election Jim Greenwood(R)- 63% Timothy Reece(D)-37% Murphy has endorsed Obama Sources: Wikipedia Michael Barone’s Almanac Politics1

 

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PA-7: Death of a Political Machine

(a recurring series, for all click here) Running along the southern edge of the state, Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District is one of the five districts encompassing the Philadelphia suburbs. The district is almost split into half, and is only united with its northern part by a small land area. It has the look of a gerrymandered district; indeed it is, as it is also one of the districts where the Republican machines are dying a slow death. In the last redistricting, the district was moved out into more GOP-friendly areas and more of the Democratic portions of Chester County were taken out, giving it the more jagged and oblong shape it has now. Previously this district had been a GOP stronghold, with the local so-called “War Board” having influence over most local politics. With the ever increasing Democratic tide from the city increases, Republicans have lost much ground in the past decade. Once proudly Republican, Delaware County, which is the focal point of the district, has gone to being as solidly blue as it was previously red. These same trends, albeit to a lesser extent, have affected both Chester and Montgomery counties, giving this district a 4 point Democratic advantage. This came to a head in 2006, when an A-list Democratic candidate managed to ride this trend and the anti-Republican wave to victory. Weldon was a professional at machine politics, bucking the changes in his district by paying close attention to his constituents and maintaining close relationships with local party and community leaders. The unions are also very strong here, and Weldon catered to them by opposing NAFTA and calling for increased manufacturing subsidies. This A-list Democrat was Admiral Joe Sestak, now the only Admiral ever to serve in Congress. Military issues are paramount in the district, and while Weldon had always paid close attention to them, serving on the Armed Services committee, Sestak was even more qualified to speak on them. Sestak was one of the four Democratic freshmen from PA. Previously of the Navy, Sestak had alternated between active service and college, and excelled at both, rising to the rank of Vice Admiral and earning a PhD. After his retirement from the Navy, Sestak was recruited by Democrats eager to gain military veterans who opposed the war in Iraq. Weldon was favored for re-election only two months before the election, but with a Democratic surge in early October, along with allegations that he improperly influenced legislation to benefit his daughter’s business , Sestak was propelled to a 57-43 victory over Weldon. In Congress, Sestak has been a constant ally of Nancy Pelosi on the war, voting to provide funds when she does, and voting on limitations when she does. He has also catered to the strong military sympathies in the district, and he has remained popular despite Congress’s low approval ratings. Republicans have not actively tried to recruit a candidate for this race, admitting defeat when they think they see it. The GOP machine in the area is dying, and there is no “Curt Weldon” that can emerge to resurrect it. Sestak has been able to amass a large warchest, and scared off most of the GOP’s early challengers, who saw the writing on the wall, along with the demographics and decided to pass. The one lone Republican who has announced, W. Craig Williams, is unopposed for the GOP nomination. Williams, who is a Gulf War veteran and resigned his job as an Assistant US Attorney in order to run, is a definite underdog in this race. He has not raised much money, and is much further behind than Sestak was at this point in 2006. Absent a scandal or a massive GOP wave, Williams will have a difficult time defeating this entrenched incumbent, likely without the aid of the NRCC or the national party. District Statistics 2006 Election Joe Sestak(D)- 56.4% Curt Weldon(R) 43.6% 2004 Election Curt Weldon(R)- 59% Paul Scoles(D) 40% Kerry(D)- 53% Bush(R)- 47% 2002 Election Curt Weldon(R)- 66% Peter Lennon(D)-34% Sources: Wikpedia Michael Barone’s Almanac Politics1

 

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PA-6: On Fourth Time Charms

(a recurring series, for all click here) For Pennsylvania’s sixth congressional district, we return to the eastern half of the state, to the modest suburbs of Philadelphia. Unlike the center-city districts, these areas did not switch to Democrats in the earlier half of the century. The district contains parts of Montgomery, Chester and Berks counties, and includes all or part of Reading, Downington, Pottstown and Norristown. It lacks the racial hodge-podge of the city, and is among one of the richest districts in the country with a median income of over $55,000. Here the Republican machines that have existed since the Civil War still control much of the local government, but in the previous few years their control has been waning as Democrats have begun to register voters at a faster clip than Republicans. Much of this area is a must win for any Republican running statewide, as usually the nominee has to prevent the Democrat from running up margins here and in the city. That is how Rendell, Casey and Kerry have won in recent years, and it is this exact mold that Republicans have only recently begun a rearguard action to fight. The old Republican machines are breaking; Montgomery County saw a perceptible shift towards Democrats when they captured 5 of the row offices and captured two state House seats and Chester County has begun following in that direction as well. In a setback for Democrats, they did lose control of Berks County, however it remains to be seen if this is merely a one-election anamoly. This is a marginal district as well, with John Kerry capturing the district with 51 to Bush’s 48, a marked Democratic improvement from Al Gore’s narrow victory in a 49-49 statistical tie. This district was invented by state Republicans in 2002, but without a strong incumbent all their planning could be for naught. The district was created with current incumbent Jim Gerlach in mind. Gerlach, who came from the western town of Ellwood City, first cut his teeth by running against Frank Lagrotta for the State House in 1986 and losing. After moving to Chester County, he ran for another House seat in 1990, challenging long-time Rep. Sam Morris, accusing him of not being attentive to the issues of the voters and visiting over 8600 homes in the process. Winning by a narrow 23 vote margin, he instantly became a rising star within the state party and after rising to the State Senate in 1994 and serving two terms, state party leaders had higher plains in mind for him. In the 2002 race, Gerlach was challenged by Don Wofford, son of the former Senator, and Wofford gave Gerlach a serious race all the way up until the morning after the election, with Gerlach etching out a slim 51-49 victory. In the next two elections, Gerlach was challenged by local attorney Lois Murphy, and both victories came very close and at great cost for both sides. In 2006, as his Philadelphia colleagues Mike Fitzpatrick(PA-8) and Curt Weldon(PA-7) were heading into defeat, Gerlach pulled a surprise victory, stunning most observers who had written him off. This seat has been a hot commodity for the past six years, with the Democrats smelling blood every cycle after continuing to make modest gains on Republicans every election. Gerlach has mostly given himself a moderate image, a wise decision in a district where he must always watch his back for ambitious Democrats. He is a card-carrying member of the Republican Main Street Partnership, and his voting record is much in line with their ideal. He has sided with the Democratic majority several times on key Iraq votes and on increased SCHIP funding. The Democrats three previous challenges have created a battle-hardened incumbent with a fat war chest, and this has likely wrecked any chance of capturing this district in the near future. Gerlach’s advisors and donors were all energized by his two narrow races against Murphy; her abortion advocacy offended pro-life voters, creating a tide of support from like-minded individuals. The strain of three consecutive defeats is showing in the Democrats recruitment efforts for this district; after previous challenger Murphy dropped out, the DCCC was left with a series of B list challengers who mostly passed on the race. The Democratic primary to replace Gerlach is a race between retired businessman Bob Roggio, developer Mike Liebowitz, and former State Sen. Rob Rovner. The favorite seems to be Roggio, who was endorsed by the Chester County Democratic Party, but he starts out with little name recognition and organization against the powerful Gerlach. Cook’s political director has called the DCCC’s attempts an “embarrassment”. While any Democrat may benefit from strong Presidential coattails, it will still be un uphill battle to unseat this Republican. District Statistics 2006 Election Jim Gerlach(R)- 50.6% Lois Murphy(D) 49.4% 2004 Election Jim Gerlach(R)- 51.0% Lois Murphy(D) 49.0% Kerry(D)- 51% Bush(R)- 48% 2002 Election Jim Gerlach(R)- 51.4% Don Wofford(D)-48.6% Sources: Wikpedia Michael Barone’s Almanac Politics1

 

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PA-5:The One Open Seat

(a recurring series, for all click here) Nestled in on the northern border with New York, Pennsylvania’s fifth congressional district is the largest in the state and includes parts of sixteen counties. Sparsely populated, wooded and mountainous, most of the district is between Lewistown, Lockhaven, Oil City & Bradford. The I-80 corridor snakes right through the middle of the district, which makes tourism and the service industries the most important. The district is also affected by the presence of State College, which means that many people who reside in the district do no vote. The district is heavily Republican, one of the most so in the state, electing Republicans since the mid-nineteenth century. The district went for Bush by a 21 point margin in 2004 and is this rated as R+10. Although Rs dominate this district, Democrats are well represented on the state and county level, and the district includes Democratic controlled counties like Lycoming. Despite this, this Democratic trend at the local level does not translate into actual Congressmen, and Democrats have not even tried to contest this seat often. Previous Congressmen include Bill Clinger, Al Johnson & Joseph Ammarman. The current Congressman from the fifth district is Jon Peterson. Starting out as a grocery store owner that turned into a chain, and after dabbling in local politics and a decade long stint in both houses of the state legislature, he ran for Congress after the retirement of Bill Clinger in 1996. He faced Daniel Gorduek and Bill Shuster in the primary, coming out on top with 38%, and then proceeded to defeat his Democratic opponent with 60% of the vote. In the next four elections, he did not even face Democratic opposition, scoring above 85% each time with token Libertarian opposition. In 2006 he did have a opponent beating opponent Don Hilliard with 60%, showing that the Democratic wave even touched strong, safe politicians. That, however, was his last contest, as he retired early this month, claiming “family medical” reasons. Peterson has been in the headlines lately over his advocacy against tolling the I-80 bridge, as he claims that this will substantially hurt the tourism sector and pose an economic threat to his district. Peterson is also known for having the worst environmental rating in Congress, and he is strongly in favor of tapping into untouched domestic energy. Peterson’s surprise retirement shocked many in the district and set off a scramble to replace him. At first the DCCC tried to recruit a strong challenger, trying to pull off a coup as they did last cycle in the 10th. But most Democrats have passed on the race, and the remaining few that have not, like Lock Haven Mayor Rick Vilello, among others, are unlikely to give the eventual GOP nominee any opposition. Among the Republicans known to be looking at the race or that have already declared for it are ex-Centre Commissioner Chris Exarchos, Iraq war veteran John Krohn, Elk County Coroner Lou Radkowski, developer Matt Shaner, Clarion Mayor John Stroup and Centre County GOP Chair T.T. Thompson. Unless the eventual Republican nominee is extremely weak, the real race for the seat will happen in the Republican primary. As the DCCC will have to many other seats to defend to focus energy on this, this seat should be a Republican hold. District Statistics 2006 Election John Peterson(R)- 60% Don Hilliard(D) 40% 2004 Election John Peterson(R)- 88% Thomas Martin(L) 12% Bush(R)- 61% Kerry(D)- 39% 1996 Primary John Peterson(R)- 38% Daniel Gordeuk(R)- 28% Bill Shuster(R)-18% Sources: Wikpedia Michael Barone’s Almanac Politics1

 

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PA-4: A Blue Snake in the (largely)Red Grass

(a recurring series, for all click here) Like its fellow district to the north, Pennsylvania’s fourth congressional district is smack dab in the middle of steel country. Unlike the 3rd though, this is much friendlier territory for Republicans. This is another district that was exiled from Philadelphia to steel country in the 1980 redistricting. Originally the 22nd, the district extends from the border with Ohio and West Virginia to include some of Mercer, Butler, Westmoreland, Lawrence and Allegheny counties and most of Beaver County. The eastern edge of the district licks into the heavily GOP suburbs of Pittsburgh, which tends to dominate the politics of the district and gives Republicans fairly good margins throughout the district. In the past, the unions, which still exercise some clout throughout the district, controlled who captured the district. The blue collar workers have always favored socially conservative policies, and this was reflected in the favor of politicians elected, such as Ron Klink. This was where the Bush model of past elections failed in 2006, with this GOP majority district being wrested out of Melissa Hart’s hands in the last few weeks of the election. The beneficiary of this wave was newly minted Congressman Jason Altmire. After being written off for the better part of the year, Atlmire’s campaign rode a late national Democratic wave combined with a cash infusion from the well-off DCCC to a surprise 52-48 win. The district has a Cook rating of R+3, and Bush won here in 2004 with a margin of 9 points. Hart had crushed her token opposition in 2004, Steven Drobac, by 30 points, and most Democrats had written off this district after Theresa Heinz Kerry’s son passed on the race in 2005. Altmire, with a resume of political consulting much like his colleague Phil English’s, ran for the seat, making health care one of the top issues of his campaign. His message played well in this district, with many of it's industrial retirees, whom the GOP had previously won because of their social conservatism, switching over to Altmire for his support of healthcare reform. Since being elected to Congress, Altmire has tried to portray a moderate image, aware that any hard-left shifts will quickly cost him votes. The NRCC painted a target over Altmire very shortly after his surprise win, and knowing this, Pelosi and House Democrats have given him some leniency on party-line votes. He has an 85.3% voting record, well below many other Democrats, including Pennsylvania Reps Murtha and Kanjorski. It was revealed late last year that Altmire had been padding this number by voting against procedural motions, and any assertions by Altmire that he is independent of national Democrats are sure to be fiercely contested. The Republican primary had originally been shaping up to be a fierce contest between the returning Hart and 2006 gubernatorial nominee Lynn Swann, but party leaders, afraid of a bruising primary, convinced Swann to seek his comeback elsewhere. Hart, when conceding, said that she had turned down NRCC requests for her to “cut [Altmire’s] legs off”. She explained her loss as a consequence of late negative advertising by Altmire, and has pledged not to make this mistake again. As long as Hart is able to defeat ex-Allegheny County Councilman Ron Francis in the GOP primary, she should be set for a high-profile second round with Altmire. Since the race will largely be determined by national trends and factors as it was in 2006, it is safe to call this race a tossup. If the GOP is to recapture Congress, they will likely have to pass through here to do it. District Statistics 2006 Election Jason Altmire(D)- 52% Melissa Hart(R) 48% 2004 Election Melissa Hart(R)- 63% Steven Drobac(D) 36% Bush(R)- 54% Kerry(D)- 42% 2000 Election Melissa Hart(R)- 59% Terry Van Horne(D)- 41% Sources: Wikpedia Michael Barone’s Almanac Politics1

 

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PA-3: Dying Industry & Protectionism along the Erie

(a recurring series, for all click here) For our third congressional district, we take leave from the grime and grit of Philadelphia and zoom across and up the state to Lake Erie. The 3rd District forms a backwards “C” bordering on both Ohio and New Hampshire, composing all of Erie County and large parts of Mercer, Crawford, Butler, Warren, Venago & Armstrong counties. Previously, the Third had been part of Philadelphia, but redistricting eliminated one of its inner city districts, banishing the Third upstate. Previously the 21st District, the Third is a marginal district, earning a Cook rating of R +2. The area was in times past a strong industrial area; and blue collar politics works well here, with previous Congressman Tom Ridge being the best example of this. Recently Republicans have been successful in finding the balance that works in this district; moderate, with an emphasis on protecting what remains of a once prosperous industrial base from foreign competition and unfair corporate decisions. This district is racially homogenous and is fairly divided between rural areas and small urban centers like Erie and Butler. The successor to Tom Ridge, Representative Phil English, himself has a fairly white collar background, but he has found an appropriate balance, like Ridge, that has kept voters loyal to him. Starting out in local politics and involving himself on the campaigns of Rick Santorum and Melissa Hart, English saw his opportunity after Tom Ridge announced he was running for governor. He narrowly rode to victory in 1994 along with Republicans statewide like Ridge and Santorum. While in Congress he has gone after China for stealing American technology and unfair currency practices, which has won him support back home. He has also been strongly on the side of more tariffs and price controls for foreign goods. He has only faced serious opposition in 1996, beating back a challenge by carpetbagger Ron DiNicola. After reaching a high of 78% in 2002, English has slipped, only getting 54% of the vote against Steve Porter in 2006. Sensing blood, national Democrats had picked English as one of their top targets in 2008. Democrats that have announced include Kathy Dahlkemper, Erie Councilman Kyle Foust, attorney Tom Myers & activist Mike Waltner. None of these candidates were the DCCC’s top picks for this cycle, so the national Democrats will likely focus their energy and money towards defending some of the vulnerable incumbents in other districts. English is still well liked in the district, and any challenger will find it hard to win here absent a solid reason and or high name ID, even assuming another blue wave next year. English is no stranger to fundraising and has spent considerable amounts on positive advertising even when his seat was not in play to raise his positive image. His third quarter report showed over $300,000 in the bank with a half million raised, not an insurmountable amount, but enough to sustain a serious challenge, should one emerge. However, at this point, none of the Democrats look as though they are a credible challenger able to take him on, so absent a collapse he should find it easy to get re-elected by a respectable amount. District Statistics 2006 Election Phil English(R)- 54% Steve Porter(D) 42% 2004 Election Phil English(R)- 60% Steve Porter(D) 40% Bush(R)- 53% Kerry(D)- 47% 1996 Election Phil English(R)- 49% Ron DiNicola(D) 49% 1994 Election Phil English(R)- 49% Bill Leavens(D) 47% Arthur Evans(I) 4% Sources: Wikpedia Michael Barone’s Almanac Politics1

 

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PA-2: A Blue Sea

(a recurring series, for all click here) Pennsylvania’s second congressional district contains most of the rest of inner-city Philadelphia, with a small drift into Montgomery County. This district, like the 1st District, possesses a vast Democratic machine that was once Republican. This district was dominated by Republicans for over eighty years, ending only with the defeat of William Wilson in 1936. (The 2nd was also home to Congressman John Creely, who upon being elected being elected in 1870, promptly disappeared, leaving no trace to his whereabouts. He was declared dead in 1900). Democrats are even stronger here than in the 1st, and corruption here is as big of a problem as in the 1st. The 2nd district is represented by Chaka Fattah, but unlike his counterpart from the 1st, Fattah has mostly focused his energies on Washington. Before being a Congressman, he was the youngest member of the PA House, after which he ran for the state Senate, defeating Milton Street in the Democratic primary. When incumbent William Gray retired in 1991, Fattah ran for the seat, but was defeated by Lucien Blackwell. Blackwell was a machine politician and had extensive links to labor unions and was widely supported by district ward leaders. Fattah challenged him again in 1994 and won. He also ran for mayor in 2007, out-performing Brady by 173 votes in the primary. Fattah is well liked in the district, and his very liberal politics and advocacy for some local pet causes, such as the “innocence” of Mumia Abu-Jamal have won him accolades. He has not faced any serious primary challenge since defeating Blackwell in 1994, and has faced only token Republican opposition. There was only mild grumbling when he ran for mayor, and his candidacy did not make many waves. There are not many politicians in the district with serious beefs with Fattah, so it is unlikely he will face any credible opposition from either party. District Statistics 2006 Election Chaka Fattah(D)- 89% Micheal Gessner(R) 9% 2004 Election Chaka Fattah(D)- 88% Stewart Bolno(R) 12% Kerry(D)- 87% Bush(R)- 12% 1994 Democratic Primary Chaka Fattah(D)- 58% Lucien Blackwell(D) 42% 1991 Special Election Lucien Blackwell(D)- 39% Chaka Fattah(Consumer Party)- 28% John White(I) 27% Sources: Wikpedia Michael Barone’s Almanac

 

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PA-1: Bad Blood, Machine Politics & Race

(a recurring series, for all click here) Our first congressional district is one of the two composing inner-city Philadelphia. The district is one thin sliver along the border to New Jersey and Delaware. Not surprisingly, being in the middle of one of the strongest Democratic machines nationally, the district is heavily blue. The district has not elected a Republican since James Gallagher in 1946. Machine politics have always defined this district and the surrounding city, sending Republicans to Congress consistently for over 82 years in times past, and now is likewise dominated by Democrats to the same degree it was once controlled by liberal Republicans. Politics here is personal, where ward leaders and city council members compete to bring the largest share of the burdened city’s resources to fix their constituents needs. This is often done with a wink and a nod, and politicians such as Ozzie Myers have consistently won elections based on their ability to do this. This district is also one of the two minority districts in the state. The current emblem of machine politics here is Congressman Bob Brady, around since1997, and you couldn’t find a better example of a machine politician than him in Congress. In a city swimming with corruption, with names like Vince Fumo, former City Councilman Marino, Mayor Street and his brother, among others, Brady is the chairman of the city party, and his run for Mayor last year showed him using the same tactics and attitude we see on a regular basis. But this same mayoral election has showed the first cracks in what was the invincible machine he used to deliver PA to the Democrats in 2004. His personal politics has rubbed many Democrats in the city the wrong way, and his weak showing of third in the primary, not even half of Nutter’s vote, led many in the city to speculate that he would face his first serious primary challenger(Lucian Blackwell almost challenged him in 1997). They were right. Keith Leaphart, a relative newcomer to elected politics, is challenging Brady for the Dem nomination in 2008. Leaphart is running on the notion that he can “cure” what ails the First District. His site does not mention Brady by name, but it is clear from his opening message that he is running against Brady’s style of politics much the same way the Nutter ran last year. As Brady is one of the few whites representing a plurality black district, and with Brady’s “Dennis Kucinich” style of ethnic politics, Leaphart’s race could swing a lot of votes towards him. It remains to be seen whether Brady’s institutional support will fade or not. If he does retain his support, he will likely win in a walk, corralling all of his precinct chairs into the type of politics that has been successful for two centuries. However, if Leaphart can ride the same wave that led Micheal Nutter to win last year despite little support from ward leaders, Brady may just have a fight on his hands. District Statistics 2006 Election Bob Brady- 100% 2004 Election Bob Brady- 86% Deborah Williams 13% Kerry- 84% Bush- 15% Sources: Wikpedia Michael Barone’s Almanac http://www.drkeithleaphart.com/

 

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