By Congressional Quarterly
Pitts should fit nicely into the conservative mold of the man he succeeds, veteran Republican Robert S. Walker, who is retiring after the 104th Congress after two decades in Congress. An Air Force combat pilot during the Vietnam War, Pitts is both an economic and social-issue conservative.
He arrived on Capitol Hill after a quarter-century in the Pennsylvania House, where in his final years he chaired the Appropriations Committee. That high-profile position gave him a forum to promote his pro-business, smaller government philosophy, which included calls for privatization of parts of state government, such as Pennsylvania's liquor control system.
Tax reform has also been a major concern for Pitts. In 1992, he proposed a state constitutional amendment that he called "The Taxpayer's Bill of Rights," which would have set limits on state and local jurisdictions' ability to increase their taxes or spending.
Over the years, Pitts has been equally outspoken on social issues. He has been a staunch foe of abortion and wrote Pennsylvania's law allowing families to educate their children at home. His congressional campaign literature in 1996 described him as "a champion, some say 'the' champion, of traditional values in Harrisburg."
Pitts has a quiet, unassuming temperament, but his views have made him a lightning rod for controversy even among Republican constituents. When he was running for renomination to an 11th term in the state House in 1992, he lost more than 40 percent of the GOP primary vote to a challenger who was pro-abortion rights, and his 1994 primary was even closer.
But Pitts' outspokenness has also created a base of support, which he tapped handily to win the crowded GOP congressional primary in April 1996 with a plurality of the vote.
His major primary opposition came from Chester County Commissioner Karen Martynick, who was vociferously pro-abortion rights. She drew the backing of several women's and environmental groups.
Martynick tried to depict Pitts as a pampered political insider. But he was able to claim that he was more than a career politician by pointing to the 116 combat missions he flew during the Vietnam War, his years as a high school basketball coach as well as a teacher of math and science, his ownership of a small landscape nursery, and his experience in legislative budget-writing.
The race was expected to have strong geographical overtones. The 16th District is split almost evenly between Pitts' home base of Chester County, which includes portions of suburban Philadelphia, and Lancaster County to the west. But both Pitts and Martynick ran more visible campaigns than the pair of candidates from Lancaster County. And on primary day, Pitts swept both counties, with Martynick finishing second in the districtwide voting.
Pitts' primary victory proved tantamount to election in the heavily Republican district, although his Democratic opponent, weekly newspaper publisher James G. Blaine, mounted a spirited campaign.
The Democrat boasted a historical name. He was a descendant of James G. Blaine, the 19th century House speaker and GOP presidential nominee in 1884. And the modern-day Blaine reached deep into his pockets to finance his campaign. He depicted himself as a non-politician and ran a series of ads attempting to establish himself as a moderate alternative to Pitts.
But that argument had limited appeal. While Blaine drew a higher share of the vote than any Democrat has in the district in more than a quarter-century, he still lost to Pitts by a ratio of roughly 3 to 2.
Republican House leaders are doing their part to keep the seat in GOP hands for years to come. They gave Pitts some plum committee assignments, including slots on Budget as well as Transportation and Infrastructure, which is chaired by fellow Pennsylvanian Bud Shuster.
© 1997, Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.
Rhode Island - Senate
Jack Reed (D-R.I.)
Born: Nov. 12, 1949, Providence, R.I.
Education: U.S. Military Academy, B.S1971; Harvard U., M.P.P. 1973, J.D. 1982.
Military Service: Army, 1967-79.
Religion: Roman Catholic.
Political Career: R.I. Senate, 1985-91; U.S. House, 1991-97.
By Congressional Quarterly
The son of two working-class parents, Reed stands in stark contrast to his predecessor, Claiborne Pell, one of the richest men in the Senate. While their backgrounds are different, both are classic liberals, meaning that Rhode Islanders should notice very little difference in their Democratic senator's voting record.
The difference may be more in style: Reed will replace the beloved six-term senator's gentlemanly demeanor of privilege with a cordial persona that is unlikely ever to lose touch with his less- than-privileged roots.
He also starts at the bottom of the seniority ladder with committee assignments. While Pell's interests were in foreign affairs -- he was chairman and more recently ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee -- Reed was assigned to the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, and Labor and Human Resources committees.
Reed's own Democratic credentials have been impeccable, sometimes bordering on populist. While serving in the House, he voted for President Clinton'S1993 package of spending cuts and tax increases, which passed without a Republican vote. Far from running away from the vote on the campaign trail, he said it proved that he, too, was fiscally responsible.
In 1995 and 1996, he weighed in on some of the biggest debates in the House. On the welfare bill, he tried and failed to ensure that block grants to the states would grow automatically when the national unemployment rate rose above 6 percent. He succeeded in amending the massive immigration bill of 1996 to include a provision that bars people who renounce their U.S. citizenship to avoid paying taxes from re-entering the country.
But his bedrock of support has always come from his background, service to his constituents, and his winning personality. "He's bright, he's decent and he's personable," said Norman Zucker, a political scientist at the University of Rhode Island.
"It's a very compelling personal story. It's worked for six years, and it could work for the next 36 years," said Darrell M. West, a Brown University political scientist. "We elect our senators for a very long time here."
Reed's father was a custodian, his mother a factory worker in South Providence. At his Catholic prep school, he was an overachieving, 124-pound defensive back who won admission to West Point in 1967. He later commanded a company of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.
At 29, Reed left the Army for Harvard Law School. He took a job at Rhode Island's biggest corporate law firm and a year later was elected to the state Senate. In 1990, he emerged from a pack of Democratic hopefuls to upset Republican Gertrude M. "Trudy" Coxe, a well-known environmentalist, in the race for the House seat that GOP Rep. Claudine Schneider (1981-91) gave up in her unsuccessful race against Pell.
When Pell announced his retirement, Reed jumped into the race three weeks later. Reed had been well-liked personally, and the state is small enough to give its two representatives broad name recognition. He avoided a potentially contentious primary when Joseph Paolino Jr., a former Providence mayor and former U.S. ambassador to Malta, passed up the Senate race and ran for Reed's open House seat instead. Reed wound up with only token opposition in the primary.
The Republicans put up State Treasurer Nancy J. Mayer, a socially moderate, fiscally conservative candidate in the mold of the state's senior senator, John H. Chafee, and the type of GOP candidates that traditionally do well in New England.
Mayer said she would bring the fiscal acumen she demonstrated at the state level to Washington and put it to work trying to eliminate the federal deficit and balance the budget.
Her campaign was plagued with problems from the beginning, however. Mayer managed to get the official party endorsement by only one vote over conservative businessman Thomas R. Post Jr., who unsuccessfully challenged Chafee two years earlier. The deciding vote was cast by the state party chairman, John A. Holmes Jr.
Though Mayer trounced Post and an even more conservative challenger, Theodore Leonard, in the primary, her campaign never caught on with voters. Reed got off to an early lead in the polls and stayed out in front throughout the campaign.
Reed stayed in the lead despite hundreds of thousands of dollars of negative advertising paid for by the National Republican Senatorial Committee trying to paint Reed as a tax-and-spend liberal. The commercials did not have the desired impact, in part because Reed has never been ashamed to be a loyal Democrat in a traditionally Democratic state. Attacks on his ties to labor unions also fell flat in heavily union Rhode Island.
In fact, he turned the commercials to his benefit during the first face-to-face debate between the two candidates. Mayer pledged to back an overhaul of the campaign finance system, and called for federal matching funds for small contributions. She also supported banning soft money, the unregulated contributions that both political parties used to run attack ads in the fall campaign. The NRSC efforts against Reed were funded with soft money contributions.
Reed countered that Mayer should have stopped the NRSC's advertising campaign against him if she believed soft money was wrong. "You could have taken a stand," he told her. "You could have stood up and said, 'This is wrong.'"
The Democrat also rode a strong backlash against what Rhode Islanders saw as the excesses of the Republican Congress, excesses that tarnished the centrist image of his GOP opponent. His advertising implied that Mayer would not serve as a bulwark against the Republican revolution. Mayer's moderation was not enough to insulate her from the backlash.
© 1997, Congressional Quarterly Inc. All rights reserved.
AllPolitics home page
Copyright © 1997 AllPolitics All Rights Reserved