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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.

SCRANTON, Pa. — They don’t know Rep. Tim Holden here.

The conservative Democrat spent the past 20 years representing a district less than 100 miles away, but his name is not familiar in these parts of northeastern Pennsylvania.

Tim Holden? Yeah, but I can’t place it,” said Rosemary Battista, a retired factory worker and local Democrat.

“I didn’t even know he was a Congressman until I saw him on TV,” said John Ford, an 81-year-old Democrat in a Penn State Nittany Lions sweatshirt.

“Tim Hogan?” asked Irene Speicher, another Democrat and retiree. “I don’t know him.”

It’s ironic and, perhaps, intentional that Holden — a political survivor for decades — finds himself in this precarious situation. He fended off GOP challengers in his Republican-leaning district for a decade after defying the odds and defeating a GOP Congressman in 2002.

But when Republicans redrew the Congressional map last year, they packed nearly every Democrat in northeastern Pennsylvania into the reconfigured 17th district, which now stretches from Holden’s Schuylkill County base north through Scranton all the way to the New Jersey line.

As a result, Holden is in big trouble in next Tuesday’s primary in a district that includes 80 percent new turf for him. His Democratic opponent, attorney Matt Cartwright, presents a trifecta of positive attributes: deep pockets, a well-known name in the district’s largest media market and views that are to the left of the Blue Dog Democrat’s conservative voting record. Not to mention the fact that Cartwright has been aided by the Campaign for Primary Accountability, an anti-incumbent outside group that has spent heavily targeting Holden.

“Absolutely, it’s a competitive race,” the lawmaker said in an interview. “The reasons for that are Matt is a very wealthy individual. You take a self-funder, combined with a super PAC of billionaire Republicans from Texas who are targeting incumbents — we’re being outspent. That makes it competitive, that makes it a challenge.”

As Seen on TV

Local residents greet Cartwright like a Scranton celebrity when he walks into the room. That’s because he’s been a regular face on TV for years in the city where the majority of Democratic primary voters reside.

“I knew him when he was on television, even before he ran,” said Maryann Corradino, a 55-year-old health care worker. “I think Cartwright has it down.”

For the past 15 years, his firm Munley, Munley & Cartwright aired television spots with his name on local broadcast stations. He also married into one of the best-known Democratic families in the region, the Munleys.

“Munley up here is like Smith in Washington,” said Skip Ward, a 61-year-old videographer from the Scranton area.

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