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RealClearPolitics Politics Nation Blog

 

Blog Home Page --> House -- Pennsylvania -- 06

Gerlach Decision Pleases GOP

Pennsylvania Rep. Jim Gerlach (R) made life a little easier for the GOP in the last day, when he reversed course to run for re-election after ending his gubernatorial bid. Gerlach first announced he was leaving the governor's race yesterday, but waited until today to announce his re-election plans.

An "overwhelming response" from constituents, he said in a statement, "reinforced the decision I have made ... to seek another term representing the great people of the 6th Congressional District."

"I truly believe that I represent the best chance for Republicans to not only hold this seat, but play a major role in regaining control of the U.S. House of Representatives," he said.

While primary challengers await him in his district, the move clears the gubernatorial primary field for Attorney General Tom Corbett, already the favorite to win. It also knocks down the number of Republican retirements in the House, which Democrats have used as an argument defending their own growing number of open seats.

"Jim Gerlach's decision to forgo his gubernatorial bid and stand for reelection in the House is one that I wholeheartedly support and welcome," said NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions. "Democrats in Washington are undoubtedly disappointed by this news."

PA 06: Gerlach Safe

Rep. Jim Gerlach has had a tough time keeping his job over the last six years. The Pennsylvania Republican, who represents parts of exurban Philadelphia, hasn't exceeded 51% of the vote in any of his three elections. But this year, a poll for his campaign shows, he may finally do so.

The poll, conducted for Gerlach's campaign by Public Opinion Strategies, surveyed 400 likely voters 8/19-21 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Gerlach and businessman and Democratic activist Bob Roggio were surveyed.

General Election Matchup
Gerlach.........57
Roggio..........28

Obama...........44
McCain..........42

Despite back-to-back tough contests with Democrat Lois Murphy, both of which slipped into negativity, Gerlach's favorable rating is a robust 61%, while just 18% see him unfavorably. Just 10% of district voters, meanwhile, know Roggio well enough to rate him.

Gerlach is one of a very small number of Republicans who represents a district Democrats Al Gore and John Kerry have won in the past two presidential elections. He also looks like the safest one of those few this year; Reps. Christopher Shays of Connecticut, Mark Kirk of Illinois and Dave Reichert of Washington all face strong challengers.

Democrats may have missed an opportunity to keep the district competitive in the future. After three nail-biting elections, if Gerlach can win big in a bad year for Republicans, he may solidify his grip on the district and take it out of play in next cycle.

Dems Optimistic In PA

Republican Rep. Jim Gerlach knows something about tough competition. The exurban Philadelphia congressman, who represents Pennsylvania's Sixth District, has won his two re-election battles by two points each -- in fact, he's scored 51% of the vote in all three of his races. But this year, his campaign hoped for an easier ride, and a recent poll showed he ran well ahead of his Democratic opponent. Now, a new Democratic poll seems to show the same thing.

The survey, conducted by Benenson Strategy Group for businessman and activist Bob Roggio, polled 500 likely voters between 6/21-24 for a margin of error of +/- 4.4%. Gerlach and Roggio were tested.

General Election Matchup
Gerlach........49
Roggio..........32

The problem, writes Roggio pollster Pete Brodnitz, is one of name recognition. Roggio is known by just 10% of district voters, and once respondents hear a positive message about the Democrat, he shoots to a seven-point lead. Of course, campaigns aren't run in a vacuum, and if Gerlach is able to fill Roggio's name identification with negative associations, the Republican could put the campaign away early.

Still, Gerlach isn't in the best shape either. 39% of voters say he's doing an excellent or good job, while 47% say his job performance is only fair or poor. And if President Bush is an issue, Gerlach will be in even worse shape, as only 16% of voters have a favorable view of Bush's job performance, compared with 84% who mark him in the fair or poor categories.

Gerlach has a significant leg up over Roggio, as this poll and a poll released last week for the incumbent's campaign showed. In fact, Republicans are as optimistic about their chances of taking back seats in the Keystone State as they are in any other state, seeing opportunities in the Fourth, Eighth, Tenth and Eleventh seats (Represented by Democrats Jason Altmire, Patrick Murphy, Chris Carney and Paul Kanjorski, respectively).

If Republicans have money to spend, it could well be in Pennsylvania, and though he remains under the crucial 50% mark, that would benefit Gerlach and finally get him over the 51% mark.

Gerlach Of Opposition

In 2006, there were few more fertile areas for national Democrats than the Philadelphia suburbs. Long trending Democratic, the three Republican-held seats that surrounded the city yielded two pick-ups for the party and one race that ended so close the incumbent was virtually guaranteed another tough contest this year.

But while new Democratic Reps. Joe Sestak, who beat Curt Weldon in Delaware and parts of Chester Counties, and Patrick Murphy, who beat Mike Fitzpatrick in his Bucks County-based seat, are firmly entrenched in their districts, the survivor, Sixth District Republican Jim Gerlach, looks like he could be safer this year than he was last year, a new poll for his campaign shows.

The poll, conducted for Gerlach by Public Opinion Strategies, surveyed 400 likely voters between 5/20-21 for a margin of error of +/- 4.9%. Gerlach and businessman Robert Roggio, the Democratic nominee, were tested.

General Election Matchup
Gerlach.........56
Roggio...........30

In each of the past two cycles, Gerlach beat businesswoman Lois Murphy by just two-point margins, including a 3,000 vote win in 2006. This year, Murphy declined to run, and without her name identification in the district, Gerlach starts off with a wide lead over Roggio. 58% of district voters view Gerlach favorably, while 20% view him unfavorably. Compare that with the 5% who know enough about Roggio to have an opinion (4% favorable, 1% unfavorable) and Democrats face a serious name recognition problem.

Republicans are becoming more scarce in the Philadelphia suburbs, but Gerlach has held on with the help of his more exurban district. The district includes suburbs in Montgomery and Chester Counties, as well as more rural Berks County near Reading. Gerlach's recent victories have come with majorities in Chester and Berks, but are so close because of big Democratic gains in Montgomery.

Gerlach does not take his re-election bids lightly, and he shouldn't dismiss this year's opponent, either. Roggio is no political neophyte, having run Philadelphia for John Kerry in 2004 and suburban Philadelphia for Senator Bob Casey's winning 2006 campaign. His Chester County roots could give him a leg up in an area in which Gerlach has traditionally done well.

But, until he's known by more than one in twenty district voters, Roggio will trail the third-term incumbent by a wide margin, giving Republicans at least some good news in a state in which they've had trouble finding the silver lining lately.