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PA at the Center of GOP Congressional Incumbent Protection

By Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor

In yet another indication that Pennsylvania will be the epicenter of the 2012 battle for control of the U.S. House, the National Republican Congressional Campaign released its list of “Patriot Program” participants yesterday, and it had several familiar names.

Congressional map from the Cook Political Report

U.S. Reps. Lou Barletta (PA-11), Mike Fitzpatrick (PA-8) and Pat Meehan (PA-7) were all selected for the NRCC’s incumbent protection initiative. The program demands strict goals, benchmarks, and accountability related to fundraising, field operations and local political outreach in order for the member to receive maximum financial support from the committee.

As Pennsylvania produced the second largest Republican gains in 2010 (five, tied with Ohio; New York had six), the Commonwealth is the best-represented state in the Patriot Program (three out of ten).

The districts were chosen because they are represented by freshmen and they have trended blue in the past – they went for President Obama in 2008 and John Kerry in 2004.

The congressmen echoed gratitude about their selection for the program.

“I am honored to be included in the first round of the NRCC ‘Patriot Program.’  This program recognizes and provides benchmarks for members to ensure winning campaigns,” said Fitzpatrick. “Last year I was part of the “Young Guns” program that recognized challengers with potential.  Heading into next year’s election cycle I am excited to be able to replicate our winning campaign from 2010 in 2012 through the assistance of the Patriot Program.”

“I’m proud to be among the first freshman House Members inducted into the NRCC’s Patriot Program,” said Congressman Meehan. “Thanks to our dedicated supporters from across the 7th District, I have been able to build a strong campaign effort early in the re-election cycle.”

“I support the Patriot program’s emphasis on leadership and ensuring that my campaign has the necessary tools to wage an aggressive campaign next year,” said Barletta. “I’m honored to be among the first 10 Patriots who are leading the fight toward 2012.”

“Make no mistake, Congressman Barletta has been targeted by Nancy Pelosi and her cohorts since his first day in office,” added Barletta campaign manager Lance Stange. “The Pelosi attack machine couldn’t even give him two months in office before the paid attack ads began.  The smears, distortions, and negative campaign tactics haven’t stopped since.  This program will help us counter the left’s attacks on Congressman Barletta by enhancing our campaign and bolstering our strength in 2012.”

Democrats, meanwhile, cast the announcement as an acknowledgement of vulnerability on the part of Republicans. Both the  Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the PA Democratic Party pointed to the party’s victory in last week’s congressional special election in NY-26 as proof that the GOP is skittish.

“This pledge of financial support for his re-election from Washington Republicans,” wrote the DCCC in press releases for each Congressman, “comes more than a week after Democrats won a Special Election in an overwhelmingly Republican district because the NRCC-backed candidate supported the Republican plan to end Medicare…”

Democrats are already recruiting challengers, including former Safe Schools Advocate Jack Stollsteimer who is gearing up to face Meehan.

The districts have a history of being targeted by the campaign committees.

All three have previously named as targets in the DCCC’s “Drive to 25” campaign, and the committee has repeatedly gone after Barletta, Fitzpatrick and Meehan this year with press releases, robocalls and occasional radio ads.

Additionally, Barletta, Fitzpatrick and Meehan were each eventually included in the NRCC’s “Young Guns” program for congressional candidates by the 2010 election.

2012 presents a challenge to Democrats hoping to build momentum against these incumbents. The new congressional lines won’t be drawn until late 2011, and Republicans control the entire process.

Even with the uncertainty presented by congressional redistricting, Dems believe there’s no way to shuffle southeast PA that would take away their strength in the region.

In any case, Pennsylvanians can look forward to watching the biggest battles of the 2012 cycle up close.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said PA posted the most GOP congressional gains in 2010, with five pickups. New York, it turns out, had six.

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