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Pennsylvania Races

House Outlook for 2008

Will the GOP Swing the Pendulum Back?

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Pennsylvania (03)

Outlook: Toss-up


Background

Republican Rep. Phil English survived a 2006 challenger and has raised $1.5 million for the upcoming elections, but Democrats still won’t leave him alone. The Democrats are taking inspiration from 2006 victories in nearby districts, seven takeovers in total, spanning Pennsylvania and upstate New York. Last cycle English dispatched his challenger by twelve percent, but this year he faces an opponent who has already raised twice as much as his 2006 opponent did throughout the entire campaign.

Businesswoman Kathy Dahlkemper, English’s general election opponent, has raised over $400,000, but will likely be unable to keep up with English’s staggering totals. Further hampering her efforts is the Republican tilt of the district which, while slight, still was enough to give George W. Bush the edge against his Democratic opponents in both 2000 and 2004 by about five points each time. While money and history won’t be on her side, the national political climate will be. Democrats are riding high this cycle and are expected to increase the gains they realized in 2006. Will this seat be one they add to their total?

Candidates

Phil English (I) – Republican – current congressman
Website

Kathy Dahlkemper – Democrat – businesswoman
Website

Pennsylvania (04)

Outlook: Likely Democratic


May 27, 2008 Update:

The primary on May 20th solidified the rematch between former Republican Representative Melissa Hart and the Democrat who beat her in 2006, Rep. Jason Altmire. First quarter fundraising numbers show a cash-on-hand advantage of $1.3 million to $400,000 in favor of Altmire.


Background

Two years after Representative Jason Altmire defeated Melissa Hart on the back of a Democratic wave, Hart is back with vengeance for the rematch. In 2006, the former suburban Pittsburgh Congresswoman was criticized within Republican circles for paying too little attention to Altmire until it was too late. Needless to say, Hart won’t be making that mistake again. Both candidates have clear paths to the nomination, especially after retired Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver and 2006 gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann passed on the challenge. Despite voting for Bush in 2000 and 04, the district is trending Democratic, and with incumbency on his side, Altmire should be considered a slight favorite to retain the seat in the rematch.

Candidates

Jason Altmire (I) – Democrat – current Congressman
Website

Melissa Hart – Republican – former Congresswoman for PA-4, defeated by Altmire in 2006
Website

Pennsylvania (06)

Outlook: Likely Republican


May 27, 2008 Update:

Democratic nominee Bob Roggio didn’t have any primary opponents, so perhaps still he needs to gain some campaigning experience. Roggio made headlines for criticizing Republican Rep. Jim Gerlach for missing several House votes; votes Gerlach missed to attend his mother’s funeral. This district has been seen as one of a very few where national Dems failed to find an A-list candidate and Roggio’s latest misstep (coupled with a week-late apology) has only added more fuel to critics’ fires. Gerlach also has a 4 to 1 cash-on-hand advantage; a gap Roggio must quickly close lest this pickup opportunity go up in smoke.


Background

Representing one of only eight Republican-held districts that voted for John Kerry in 2004, one would think Representative Jim Gerlach lives on the edge of vulnerability. However, he has made a business of turning back well-funded challenges in the past. including last cycle’s rematch with Lois Murphy which was thought to be one of the Democrats’ top pickup opportunities of 2006.

This year, Gerlach is getting somewhat of a pass. None of his Democratic challengers—businessman Robert Roggio, developer Mike Leibowitz, ex-state senator Bob Rovner, and businessman Richie Phillips—could be considered ”top-tier.” Although Roggio has secured the endorsement of Chester County Democrats, he faces long odds against the battle-tested Gerlach in a general election. Even if a surprise entrance by the likes of attorney Chris Casey, brother of Senator Bob Casey, were to scramble the Democratic nomination, the smart money would stay with Gerlach, who like fellow moderate Chris Shays of Connecticut, has proven his ability to survive in the toughest of conditions.

Candidates

Bob Roggio – Democrat – businessman
Website

Jim Gerlach (I) – Republican – current Congressman
Website

Pennsylvania (08)

Outlook: Likely Democratic


May 27, 2008 Update:

Fears about Republican nominee Tom Manion’s abilities as a candidate were put to rest by his first quarter fundraising and he seems to be in great position to challenge Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy. Current fundraising totals have Murphy with a cash-on-hand advantage of $1.7 million to $400,000, but Manion is clearly doing quite well for a first-time candidate.


Background

For over a year after Representative Patrick Murphy’s induction to Congress, former Representative Mike Fitzpatrick’s silence on a possible rematch froze the GOP nomination and prevented the entrance of potential challengers. As of January, however, Fitzpatrick is out and is laying the groundwork for pharmaceutical executive Tom Manion’s bid against Murphy.

Manion, a Marine Corps Reserve Colonel, entered the race in memoriam to his son, Travis, who was killed in Iraq. Murphy is an Iraq war veteran himself, and the campaign could evolve into a clash of strong opinions and first-hand perspectives on the war. Although
Manion’s pathway to the nomination is relatively clear, he must prove his mettle financially before he can compete with Murphy, one of the strongest fundraisers in the freshman Democratic class. For now, Murphy is the favorite, but it should be interesting to see how Manion fares as a first time candidate.

Candidates

Patrick Murphy (I) – Democrat – current Congressman
Website

Tom Manion – Republican – pharmaceutical executive, Marine Corps Reserve Colonel
Website

Pennsylvania (10)

Outlook: Leans Democratic


May 27, 2008 Update:

Newly-minted Republican nominee Chris Hackett is switching over to general election mode and preparing for his November battle against Democratic Rep. Chris Carney. While Hackett and the NRCC tout the district’s conservative tendencies and emphasize that 2008 will be a presidential election year with coattails aplenty. Carney’s camp, on the other hand, stress his $1 million cash on hand (compared to Hackett’s $200,000) and Carney’s moderate rhetoric and voting record. While Democratic winds are certainly blowing across the nation, Pennsylvania’s 10th district is just one of many where having a “D” next to your name could turn out to be something of a mixed blessing.


Background

The Republican race to oppose Representative Chris Carney in Northeastern Pennsylvania’s 10th district is shaping up to be an expensive, high profile contest. Pride Mobility Products president Dan Meuser faces off against One Source Staffing Solutions president Chris Hackett, and both executives hope to capitalize on Carney’s vulnerability in relatively conservative territory. Meuser, endorsed by former Senator Rick Santorum, can self-fund and has the upper hand for now, but Hackett’s fundraising continues to be solid.

A recent Democratic poll, however, shows Carney ahead thirty points and above fifty percent against either nominee. Should the GOP primary degenerate into a costly, bruising affair, the eventual nominee must make up considerable ground before unseating Carney in November. Regardless, with two top-notch candidates, this district appears to be one of the Republicans best opportunities to roll back the Democratic wave of 2006.

Candidates

Chris Carney (I) – Democrat – current Congressman
Website

Chris Hackett – Republican – entrepreneur
Website

Pennsylvania (11)

Outlook: Toss-up


September 19, 2008 Update:

If there’s one Representative whose re-election woes are entirely his own doing, it is Democrat Paul Kanjorski. In a year when Democrats are favored to make double-digit gains in the House, Kanjorski is the one incumbent who is swimming against the tide. His gaffes have been YouTube staples and the DCCC has already spent close to $300,000 trying to bail him out. With the latest independent poll showing Kanjorski losing to immigration activist Lou Barletta by a 44-35 margin, Kanjorski better turn things around quickly before national Democrats lose patience.


Background

Democratic Rep. Paul Kanjorski’s reelection campaign has been hobbled by one major factor: his mouth. Kanjorski should be one of the most entrenched members of Congress, serving in a district that gave Gore an 11% margin in 2000 and Kerry a 6% one in 2004. Furthermore, Kanjorski has only dipped below 65% in one of his eleven reelection campaigns. Last year he defeated the Republican challenger who raised just $10,000 by nearly 50%. Who would have thought 2008 would be any different in a Democratic district in a Democratic year?

But 2008 has been different. Very different. Kanjorski faces Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta who has raised over $100,000 so far and is known for his staunch anti-immigration stance. His campaign has released a poll purporting to show a 5% lead for the Republican challenger as of late March. Barletta’s conservative credentials and the closeness of the race has led to support from a number of conservative organizations who have begun airing radio ads opposing Kanjorski. While Kanjorski has $1.8 million in the bank, he’s already had to start spending on television ads to counter his opponent and his own bad press.

Kanjorski’s gaffes have been the biggest threat to his reelection so far. A YouTube clip garnered much news coverage, as Kanjorski was caught on tape apparently admitting that his fellow Democrats in 2006 had promised change in Iraq that they knew they couldn’t deliver. Just when that maelstrom was dying down, Kanjorski was at it again, comparing Barletta to white supremacist David Duke. Kanjorski has two of the greatest advantages any Congressional candidate can hope for: incumbency and money. Unfortunately for him, Barletta has an advantage of his own: an gaffe-prone opponent.

Candidates

Paul Kanjorski (I) – Democrat – current Congressman
Website

Lou Barletta – Republican – Hazleton mayor
Website

Pennsylvania (15)

Outlook: Likely Republican


May 27, 2008 Update:

Sam Bennett will be the Democrats’ nominee this November against Republican Rep. Charlie Dent. The race is taking place in a bona fide battleground district where Kerry and Bush split votes 50-50. Dent has the early, but slim, money advantage, with $600,000 to Bennett’s $200,000.


Background

In 2006, Representative Charlie Dent outspent little-known Democratic candidate Charles Dertinger by nearly fourteen to one, but won by only a 53-44 margin. Dent’s underperformance drew the attention of national Democrats who hoped to capitalize on his newfound vulnerability. However, Democratic recruitment efforts have produced paltry returns. The Democratic primary consists of ’05 Bethlehem Mayoral candidate Sam Bennett and anti-abortion rights activist William Hall, neither of whom have impressed to date. Bennett, though a strong primary favorite, has had little success in fundraising (only $28K in the third quarter) and has had to dodge allegations of improprie
ty over her nonprofit salary package. With a better Democratic nominee, this race could have been competitive, but as it stands, Charlie Dent is a favorite for reelection.

Candidates

Charlie Dent (I) – Republican – incumbent congresssman
Website

Sam Bennett – Democrat – businesswoman
Website

Pennsylvania (18)

Outlook: Likely Republican


May 27, 2008 Update:

Businessman Steve O’Donnell squeaked past early favorite Beth Hafer in the Democratic primary to decide who will face Republican Rep. Tim Murphy in November. Democrats have often seen Murphy as vulnerable, but they hope this will finally be the year they give him a run for his money. Speaking of money, Murphy’s cash advantage currently stands at $900,000 to $200,000.


Background

Representative Tim Murphy has never faced a competitive race in his entire congressional career, despite the fact his district lies on somewhat marginal territory. Murphy’s past invulnerability is a double-edged sword—he has been able to retain the goodwill of his constituents and amass a sizable war chest, but his campaigning skills may be a bit rusty. This year, Murphy is troubled by an ongoing FBI investigation over the use of congressional staffers for political purposes, which may provide fodder for a general election.

Fortunately for the Pittsburgh-area congressman, the Democratic field remains ill-defined. Leading a pack of six candidates is businesswoman Beth Hafer, daughter of former state treasurer Barbara Hafer whose name carries political weight in the district, but she must deal with a host of other Democratic contestants. If Hafer emerges as the nominee, Murphy must not repeat the mistakes of former Representatives Curt Weldon (R-PA) and Phil Crane (R-IL) who adjusted too slowly to the realities of a competitive race and went on to lose in November. In all likelihood, Murphy will retain his seat, but to do so, he must be prepared for the toughest race of his career.

Candidates

Steve O’Donnell – Democrat – retired Navy veteran
Website

Tim Murphy (I) – Republican – current Congressman
Website