By Jeremy P. Jacobs - 07/15/09 06:56 PM EDT
Republican Rep. Jim Gerlach may have handed his House seat to Democrats on Tuesday when he announced he will run for governor of Pennsylvania next year.
Gerlach survived his southeast district trending a deep shade of blue by virtue of his name recognition and centrist voting record. In 2008, Gerlach’s best showing in the four terms he’s been in office, he won the seat by a mere five points.
“This really changes the dynamics,” said one Pennsylvania Democratic insider.
Added Shripal Shah, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC): “This was already one of our top targets before Jim Gerlach decided to run for governor. We will continue to aggressively target this district that overwhelmingly supported the president last year.”
Republicans aren’t giving up on the seat, said National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas).
“Jim Gerlach has been an effective and independent member of the House, and he will be missed by his colleagues,” Sessions said. “The NRCC is committed to doing all that we can to elect a Republican in this district who shares the values and campaign skills that made Congressman Gerlach so successful.”
Adding to the Democrats’ excitement is their only candidate currently in the race, former Philadelphia Inquirer editorial writer Doug Pike. Pike, whose father was a congressman from New York, jumped in the race early and has a head start on fundraising and staff.
He told The Hill he was prepared to take on Gerlach or any other Republican.
“I hadn’t been making any predictions in terms of what Mr. Gerlach would run for,” Pike said. “I am just focusing on offering voters someone who will bring change to Washington. I am not a career politician, but I have spent a good deal of time analyzing issues.”
Pike has $630,000 cash on hand and intends to spend $1 million of his own money on the race. Earlier this week, Pike announced the support of seven local Democratic officials.
“We’re very excited about the possibility of Doug Pike being the nominee,” said Abe Amoros, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Democrats.
On Wednesday, Pike announced the endorsement of Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.). Murphy is the chairman of the DCCC’s Red to Blue program and his backing could be seen as another sign the party is coalescing behind Pike.
Democrats worry, though, that with Gerlach out of the race a larger primary field could form. Another possibility is Manan Trivedi, who is mulling the race.
“I have been urged to run for this seat and I am strongly considering it,” he said.
State Sen. Andy Dinniman, another Democrat, is also reportedly eyeing a run.
Democratic sources in the state insist, however, that Pike is clearly the front-runner and note that it will be tough for another Democrat to catch up with Pike’s fundraising.
On the Republican side, state Rep. Curt Schroder has emerged as the first candidate in the race. “I am moving forward with running,” he said.
Schroder also reported receiving two contributions totaling $225 from Gerlach’s committee in the first quarter.
Schroder said that without President Obama on the top of the ticket in 2010, the political environment will be very different from that of 2008. He went on to say that voters are already unhappy with Democratic policies and that by 2010 “reality will set in.”
Republicans both in Washington and Pennsylvania said they are just beginning to look for candidates, since they weren’t recruiting before Gerlach’s announcement. Republicans are looking for another candidate in the Gerlach mold — someone who has crossover appeal and can pick up support from Democrats.
“Over the next two weeks we are going to be sitting down with our party and other interested parties in that area and we’re going to be looking for a good candidate to carry our party’s banner,” said Michael Barley, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Republicans. “We feel like we have some good candidates down there [and] we feel we will be able to hold onto that seat.”
For Democrats, their advantage lies in the numbers. In 2000, Al Gore (D) and George W. Bush (R) tied in the 6th district at 49 percent. The district gave Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) a 51-48 percent edge over Bush four years later. And last fall, Obama trounced Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by a 58 percent to 41 percent margin.
And no Republican has carried the district in a statewide race since 2004. Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D) earned 59 percent in the district in his first Senate run in 2006. Perhaps more telling, Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell won with 57 percent in 2002 and a whopping 66 percent in 2006.
Republicans may face some difficulty in finding the right candidate if they aren’t happy with Schroder. Some Pennsylvania Republicans said Chester County Commissioner Carol Aichele, who is currently running for lieutenant governor, would be a strong congressional candidate, but Aichele ruled that out entirely.
“I am only interested in lieutenant governor,” she said. “I never had an interest in running for Congress.”