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Congressional Democrats’ Pennsylvania Problem

Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Democrats have an opportunity to pick up Pennsylvania's 6th district, where Manan Trivedi is making another run at the Republican incumbent. Trivedi, a physician and Iraq War vet, is a credible challenger, and the district is politically competitive.

Democrats’ next best opportunity in the state is the 6th district, where Manan Trivedi is making another run at Rep. Jim Gerlach (R). Trivedi, a physician and Iraq War vet, is a credible challenger, and the district is politically competitive. But Gerlach, who survived ’06 and ’08, has proved that he can win just more than
50 percent of the vote in this district no matter how hostile the political environment.

Finally, Washington County Commissioner Larry Maggi, who is taking on Rep. Tim Murphy (R), might be worth a look. A former Marine, state trooper and county sheriff, Maggi is a county commissioner who ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2002. But although he was the candidate preferred by the Democratic establishment (and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) in that race, he lost the primary.

On April 4, Maggi had $267,000 on hand compared with Murphy’s almost $1.4 million. McCain actually ran better in both the old and redrawn district than President George W. Bush did in 2004, suggesting that President Barack Obama’s presence at the top of the ticket in November won’t help Maggi’s underdog bid.

Elsewhere, Republicans who were top Democratic targets in previous cycles seem barely threatened this time.

Freshman Rep. Patrick Meehan, whose district got more than 4 points better for him under the new lines, is being challenged by attorney George Badey, longtime chairman of the Radnor Democratic Committee. Badey had $193,000 in the bank compared with Meehan’s
$1 million on April 4.

Almost every cycle, Democrats come up with someone they say will give politically savvy Rep. Charlie Dent (R) a real run for his money. Not this time. Lehigh County Democratic Chairman Richard Daugherty showed less than $4,500 in the bank as of April 4.

In the northwest corner of the state, freshman Rep. Mike Kelly looks like an obvious Democratic target in a district that legislators made barely more Republican than it was when former Democratic Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper won it in 2008. But the Democratic nominee this time, Missa Eaton, who teaches at Penn State Shenango, had $16,000 in the bank on April 4.

And Democrats can’t take their own Pittsburgh/Johnstown seat for granted. Rep. Mark Critz won a primary against a Democratic colleague, but he now faces a serious challenge from Republican Keith Rothfus, who narrowly lost two years ago to Rep. Jason Altmire (D).

Some might see the weak Pennsylvania class of challengers as a “recruiting failure” by the DCCC and particularly by its recruiting chairwoman, Rep. Allyson Schwartz (Pa.). But you can’t make interesting, credentialed candidates run if they don’t want to, and it looks as if Keystone Democrats have decided this isn’t the year to run against incumbent Republicans in Pennsylvania.

Some of the Democrats’ problems might be because of Obama, who is expected to be weak in Western Pennsylvania. In addition, redistricting insulated supposedly weaker Republican incumbents, including freshman Reps. Tom Marino and Lou Barletta.

Schwartz, who insists her party does have a number of good opportunities in the state, told me this week that the lateness of the new map, which wasn’t finalized until December, and rumors throughout the second half of 2011 suggesting Democrats would have to run in very unfriendly districts made recruiting more difficult than it ordinarily would have been.

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