Roll Call: Gerlach and Critz are White Whales
Roll Call’s Shira Toeplitz likened two PA congressmen to Captain Ahab’s white whales — seats that the opposing party chases every cycle without success, even after throwing millions of dollars and their strongest competitors at the race.
The first is PA’s 6th District, a seat held by Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Chester):
This suburban Philadelphia district should have been an easy pickup for Democrats, especially in the wave elections of 2006 and 2008. The region has trended in their favor politically over the past decade…
But Rep. Jim Gerlach has owned this seat ever since he drew it for himself as a state legislator during the 2002 redraw — and the next 10 years look even better for him.
The redrawn district stretches farther west toward the center of the state (i.e., Republicans) and away from Montgomery County (i.e., Democrats).
In 2006, Gerlach faced a rematch from 2004 with Lois Murphy, an attorney and a strong fundraiser, who lost by less than 2 points. In the second, stronger Democratic wave of 2008, Democrats nominated little-known businessman Bob Roggio, and Gerlach survived by a 4-point margin.
This November, Gerlach faces physician Manan Trivedi for the second cycle in a row. Trivedi is a strong candidate, but Gerlach has probably cemented his hold on this district.
The other PA seat is the 12th, held by Rep. Mark Critz (D-Cambria):
In 2010, Critz won a competitive, high-stakes special election to succeed his boss, the late Rep. John Murtha (D-Cambria). Republicans rarely attempted to unseat Murtha during his 36 years in Congress, but they spent nearly seven figures to defeat Critz in one of their most embarrassing losses of the cycle.
Last year, Republicans redrew the district to make it more conducive to pickup. They started by forcing Critz and Rep. Jason Altmire (D-Allegheny) into a primary in the same district. The redrawn district’s composition favored Altmire, but Critz won by 4 points in April.
After all this, Critz still faces his hardest race yet in November. He’s running on the ballot with a president that southwestern Pennsylvanians don’t view favorably, and his redrawn 12th district is more Republican than ever.
House Republicans view this November as their best shot yet to pick up this seat — and they’re right.