||One of the nation's top political analysts, Stuart Rothenberg, dissects politics at the congressional and statewide levels.|
GOP has a chance to pick up Democratic Pennsylvania House seat
Gov. Carper is Dems' best chance to defeat Sen. Roth, but will he run?
By Stuart Rothenberg
June 9, 1999
Web posted at: 3:30 p.m. EDT (1930 GMT)
WASHINGTON (June 9) -- There is no way any Republican is going to defeat Rep. Ron Klink (D) in Pennsylvania's 4th congressional district, but that doesn't mean the GOP doesn't have a chance to pick up his district next year. That's because Klink, a one-time television reporter and four-term congressman, has decided to give up his House seat and make a bid for the Senate.
Klink insists that his western Pennsylvania congressional district is Democratic enough to assure that almost any Democratic nominee can retain the district, but Democratic insiders and GOP political operatives aren't so sure.
What's worrying Democrats is the candidacy of state Sen. Melissa Hart, a conservative Republican who holds a Democratic seat in the state Legislature and has displayed the political appeal to make her a formidable candidate for the open seat.
Hart, 37, defeated an incumbent Democratic state senator in 1990, and was re-elected with just shy of 70 percent of the vote in both 1994 and 1998. While she doesn't live in the 4th, she currently represents part of the congressional district.
Rep. Phil English, a Republican who represents Pennsylvania's 21st C.D., once served as Hart's chief of staff, and the state senator appears to have the backing of national and state GOP strategists.
The Democratic race seems to be focusing on two possible hopefuls, Lawrence County District Attorney Matt Mangino and Jerry Hodge, a former aide to former congressman Joe Kolter (D-Pennsylvania).
Mangino announced this week that he was forming a campaign committee for a possible congressional bid, and while he has not formally announced his candidacy, there is little doubt about his intention to seek the Democratic nomination in the 4th C.D.
A pro-life, self-described "middle of the road Democrat," Mangino was elected district attorney in 1997 after ousting the incumbent in the Democratic primary and then beating the same candidate who was running in the general election as a Republican.
Hodge was elected to the economy borough council in 1987. He currently is a regional representative for the National Association of Manufacturers. Like his potential primary opponent, Hodge is also pro-life on abortion.
Other Democrats, including 83-year old former congressman Frank Clark, have looked at the race, so other contestants are possible.
Whatever happens on the Democratic side, the Republicans have a formidable candidate in Hart and a chance to pick up a seat that would be out of their reach if Klink were seeking re-election. The race will be competitive.
Republican Sen. Bill Roth, who was first elected to the U.S. Senate in 1970 and is now serving his fifth term, has announced that he will seek re-election next year.
Roth, who served two terms in the U.S. House before winning election to the Senate, lost a bid for lieutenant governor in 1960 and later served as state party GOP chairman.
Democrats insist that Roth is vulnerable to a strong Democratic challenger, but they said the same thing back in 1994, when state Attorney General Charlie Oberly challenged the senator. Oberly looked like a strong Democratic contender, raising a respectable $1.5 million to the senator's $2.2 million, but the challenger drew only 42 percent against Roth.
The Democrats' best chance of defeating Roth rests clearly with Gov. Tom Carper. A former state treasurer and five-term member of Congress, Carper is finishing his second term as governor. He is prohibited from seeking re-election, but has not indicated how seriously he would consider the Senate race. A popular statewide official, Carper would clearly be a tough opponent for Roth.
Sen. Robert Torricelli, chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, issued a statement after Roth's announcement saying that his committee is "encouraged by the prospective candidacy of popular Gov. Tom Carper."
Roth is chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, and he has successfully argued that his seniority -- and clout -- in the Senate is a huge asset to the residents of his state.
If Carper jumps in against Roth, Delaware immediately becomes a Senate race worth watching and a takeover opportunity for the Democrats. If he doesn't, Roth may find this a relatively easy re-election.