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Redistricting Makes Blue Dog Holden an Underdog

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Rep. Tim Holden and his wife, Gwen, attend the Northampton County Democratic Committee’s annual spring cocktail party in Bethlehem Township, Pa.

What’s more, for the past seven years, Cartwright has starred in a popular segment on the evening news, “The Law and You.” He answered viewers’ questions about their legal rights in the three-minute segments that aired five nights a week. As Cartwright describes the experience, which ended in December just before he announced, he looks like he’s been planning this campaign for years.

“It’s something that I’ve always thought of doing,” Cartwright said later in an interview. “There was never a realistic possibility of that until this time.”

Redistricting gave Cartwright an opening, and he came financially prepared for the challenge. He’s put $390,000 of his own money into his campaign and raised an additional $307,000. It’s the kind of cash that makes any longtime incumbent squirm even before the aforementioned super PAC promised to dump $200,000 into the race blasting Holden.

Holden has raised just over $900,000 for his first tough contest in a decade. But even though he complains his opponent is a self-funder, the geographical disadvantages in the new district appear to be hurting him the most in his re-election.

“They ask me, ‘Who are you running against?’” Cartwright said. “If I’ve just seen one of the attack ads Mr. Holden’s been throwing at me, I say, ‘I forget the guy’s name. He’s from a long way away.’”

On this chilly Thursday morning, Cartwright campaigns in a retirement home and senior event for a local state Representative. He’s targeting voters over the age of 50, who make up the majority of the Democratic primary electorate in this district.

As he greets potential voters, Cartwright displays a trial attorney’s sense of overt charm. With a gray suit and matching salt-and-pepper hair, he flirts with the elderly ladies and talks college football with their husbands. When Cartwright departs for the parking lot at Allied Terrace Assisted Living Facility, he hears shouts from the windows above him.

“Hey Matt, we couldn’t get down, but we’re all for you,” a pair of elderly ladies exclaim.

“I feel like Romeo down here,” Cartwright slickly responds.

What Happened to Timmy?

They know Holden in Pottsville, but most of them can’t vote for him. He’s counted on the support of Republicans in his base of Schuylkill County for years, but longtime supporters like Ray Rice, the owner of the Coney Island restaurant, can’t help him this time.

“I can’t vote for him in the primary, only in the general election, unfortunately. But he has my total support,” said Rice, 70. “I think he’s doing well around here, but he’s not doing well up north.”

Schuylkill County has served as Holden’s home and political base for his entire tenure in Congress, but this county includes only a fraction of the Democratic voters in the redrawn district.

Nonetheless, in these parts, voters know the Congressman simply as Timmy. He’s endeared himself to the region, especially since his legendary 2002 victory. In that round of redistricting, Republicans sought to defeat Holden by placing him in a GOP-leaning district with then-Rep. George Gekas (R).

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