Rep. Tim Holden won the bellwether Luzerne Dems endorsement Thursday night thanks in part to a strong speech on his behalf by his former colleague Chris Carney. Holden is being challenged by Lackawanna County attorney Matt Cartwright in the 17th district primary.
Though he’s been in office for 19 years, Holden is facing a very different district than he’s used to. He retained only 20 percent of his constituents after redistricting, and gained wide swaths of Democratic territory in northeastern Pa.
Cartwright, who resides in Moosic on the Luzerne/Lackawanna county line, is relying on strong support from his geographic base in order to topple Holden. Luzerne County accounts for 20 percent of the Democratic primary electorate in the district; Lackawanna County is 36 percent.
Why such a strong result?
“Experience,” said Luzerne Democratic Chairwoman Kathy Kane. “He has the experience we need. We lost [Rep. Paul] Kanjorski in the last election, and took a big hit losing his seniority. Tim can help us with that.”
That, and a helping hand from Carney.
“He did a wonderful job for Tim. He explained why Tim couldn’t make it – there was a meeting of the Transportation Committee – and why that’s so important to the area. He brought a number of people on board,” Kane said.
Northeast Pa. is accustomed to long-tenured members of Congress who can bring home the bacon. It just so happens that that is Holden’s specialty. He’s the second-ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, and the 10th-ranking Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. And at 55, he has time to move up.
His weakness? He has the voting record of a Democrat representing a Republican district, which he has his entire career – until now.
Cartwright spoke second-to-last. He talked about his work as an attorney, representing working class northeastern Pennsylvanians. But most of his time was reserved for Holden.
“I am the Democrat in this race,” Cartwright declared. “I will stand up in Washington to the powerful lobbies of Wall Street and the insurance companies. I will fight against the polluters.”
They were indirect references to some of many votes where Holden strayed from Democratic party lines. He voted against the Affordable Care Act, aka ‘Obamacare,’ against a bill to amend foreclosure rules, and against a host of environmental regulations.
Cartwright also took direct aim at Holden’s strongest argument: his tenure. Holden is the dean of the Pennsylvania delegation – the longest-serving member of Congress from the Keystone State. Cartwright said anyone who’d driven on the bumpy roads in Schuylkill County had reason to doubt Holden’s sway on the Transportation Committee.
“I’m running against a person who’s been in Congress for 19 years. In 19 years, my opponent has authored exactly two bills that have passed into law. Both of them were to name post offices. Where’s the clout?”
Carney spoke last. He emphasized that Holden’s native Schuylkill County and Luzerne were one in the same, with the same interests. He strongly emphasizing Holden’s pull in Congress.
“Tim, because of his seniority, because the experience that he’s had, and because he’s able to work in Congress respectively, he’s the one who was asked to stay on tonight and work on the nation’s transportation bill,” he said.
“You don’t give that up easily. That’s why I will always support Tim Holden. Matt is a friend of mine, but Tim is the man we need.”
Carney won election to the northeastern Pa. 10th district in 2006, but lost to Rep. Tom Marino in 2010.
Holden also recently won the endorsement of three local Lackawanna County Democratic committees. The full county endorsement meeting is next Sunday, March 18.
Cartwright has been endorsed by State Rep. Phyllis Mundy as well as American Association for Justice – formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. His campaign said a complete list of endorsements would be forthcoming this week.
Clarification: The vote to endorse Holden was recorded as unanimous in the Luzerne County Democrats’ minutes. However, the initial vote was 23 for Holden, 8 for Cartwright. By rule, a vote can be recorded as unanimous by motion with two-thirds support. The vote for that motion carried 28 to 3. The headline of this article has been changed accordingly.
Bill Vinsko is an attorney from Wilkes-Barre. He had no trouble winning the backing of his home county.
“He’s the home town boy. He’s from the area, he’s a good man, and people trust him,” said Kane.
His opponent is Gene Stilp, a government activist who took the lead in the early stages of both Bonusgate and the backlash to the midnight pay raise. Stilp did not attend.
It appears to have been a gentlemen’s agreeement. Vinsko did not attend when Stilp, a native of Luzerne County who now resides in Dauphin County, won the Dauphin County Dems endorsement.