Rivalry in Philadelphia

Two Democrats Vie for Suburbs and Gerlach's Seat

Posted March 17, 2010 at 6:51pm

An upstart candidate is giving the early favorite a run for his money in the Democratic primary for a competitive House seat in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Former editorial writer Doug Pike (D), the son of former Rep. Otis Pike (D-N.Y.), was touted by national Democrats as a top candidate early in the cycle because of his personal wealth and connections.

But Navy veteran and physician Manan Trivedi has picked up steam in recent weeks, culminating in two major local endorsements, and is forcing a fight for the chance to take on Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) this November in the highly competitive 6th district.

Although Pike still has a huge financial edge and the blessing of organized labor, there’s no doubt Trivedi

has made this a competitive race.

Trivedi won the endorsements of the Montgomery County and Chester County Democrats in recent weeks, winning internal elections among county party officials by a margin of at least 70 percent. The other county party in the district, Berks County, does not endorse a candidate.

There has not been a competitive primary for the seat in recent cycles, so it’s not clear just how much county endorsements will mean for candidates. However, even Montgomery County Democratic Committee Chairman Marcel Groen said he was “surprised” by Trivedi’s large margin of victory.

“I think it’s significant,” Groen said. “I think it means that the organization and the committee people will be supporting [Trivedi] in the primary.”

Pike still has the upper hand when it comes to money and other endorsements. Trivedi ended 2009 with only $123,000 in the bank, while Pike reported having $1.1 million in cash on hand — including $962,000 from his own bank account.

Pike’s cash advantage will go a long way in the expensive Philadelphia media market. He said in an interview that the campaign has not decided on a strategy yet, but he assumes it will buy airtime on broadcast television in the Philadelphia market. Trivedi, meanwhile, said his campaign would not likely buy any airtime on broadcast television.

Pike also has the backing of 18 local unions, which could prove key for turn-out-the-vote efforts. This week, he received the backing of the Service Employees International Union.

Groen acknowledged Pike’s advantage with organized labor.

“I’m guessing there’s a long way to go in this thing yet,” he said.

Pike also boasts endorsements from several Democratic Members of Congress from southeastern Pennsylvania, including Reps. Robert Brady and Chaka Fattah and DCCC “Red to Blue” Co-Chairs Patrick Murphy and Allyson Schwartz.

“On the same day that my opponent was doing well with the people in Montgomery County, I announced the endorsement of two more unions,” Pike said in a phone interview. “And that week I was also endorsed unanimously by the Chester County Young Democrats. It’s a battle.”

Trivedi’s supporters chalk up his recent success to his personal story as a candidate. As the son of immigrants, Trivedi can present himself as an outsider candidate — an appealing profile in a volatile election cycle like 2010. And with the health care debate still playing prominently in Washington, D.C., Trivedi’s background as a doctor is also a plus.

“I think people are really looking for a new breed of civil servant,” Trivedi said. “And I am very different than your career politicians, and I’m not your typical candidate.”

According to one Democratic operative with Pennsylvania experience, Pike was unable to avoid a primary challenge because he did not have any prior relationships with the political activists in the area and is not from Berks County ­— a key part of the district that Trivedi calls his home base. Nonetheless, the operative still said Pike would be the better candidate in the general election.

“I personally believe that [Trivedi] is not the right candidate to win this seat, but this primary is good,” the operative said. “And this primary is good because neither of these candidates have run for office before.”

The winner of the Democratic nomination will face Gerlach, who has won with no more than 52 percent of the vote over his four campaigns for the seat. In 2008, Gerlach defeated businessman Bob Roggio (D) by 4 points in a year in which the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee did not target the seat.

While Republicans generally agree that Gerlach’s decision to run for re-election is good for the party’s chances of holding the seat, other operatives in the state say he is more vulnerable because of his somewhat quixotic and short-lived gubernatorial bid in 2009. Because of that brief run, Gerlach must start fundraising all over again as well as defend his decision to give up the seat.

“I think that Gerlach will be more hurt by his failed run for governor and walking away from the seat than Trivedi or Pike will be by being tested in the primary,” the Pennsylvania operative said.