Meehan, Delaware County district attorney before President George W. Bush appointed him U.S. attorney in 2001, gives Republicans a solid chance at taking back the seat they lost in 2006, when Democrat Joe Sestak defeated 10-term Rep. Curt Weldon. Sestak, elected to a second term last year by a nearly 20-point margin, is not seeking re-election, choosing instead to challenge U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary.
As a result, both districts are up for grabs, unlike most congressional districts, where the winner can often be predicted well in advance of the election.
Huge amounts of outside cash and resources are expected to pour into the region next year, similar to 2006, when the congressional races in the Philadelphia suburbs were among the most competitive in the nation.
Gerlach, a four-term Republican who has long been targeted by Democrats, is giving up his seat to run for governor.
"These will be some really expensive races," said Christopher Borick, director of Muhlenberg College's Institute of Public Opinion. "Both parties believe that they have a claim to winning."
Yesterday, in a speech to local GOP heavyweights, Meehan focused on fiscal conservatism and smaller government. He said "unchecked spending" was leading to a massive debt load "that our children and their children will carry around their necks like a millstone for generations."
Wally Nunn, former Delaware County Council chairman who lived next door to Meehan for 20 years, said that message might sound good to voters next year.
"None of us can think we can keep spending money like this," Nunn said of federal spending.
President Obama carried the district last year with 56 percent of the vote, but Republicans still outnumber Democrats there.
Meehan was considering running for governor, but is now backing Attorney General Tom Corbett in that race.
On the Democratic side, state Rep. Bryan Lentz, an Iraq war veteran and former Philadelphia prosecutor, has been staffing up to run for the 7th District seat. State Rep. Greg Vitali has also expressed some interest.
Gerlach's district includes parts of Chester, Berks and Montgomery counties. Republican Steve Welch, a Phoenixville businessman who initially planned to run in the 7th District, said last weekend that he'd run in the 6th. Also seeking the GOP nomination are Chester County's recorder of deeds, Ryan Costello, and state Rep. Curt Schroder.
Former Inquirer editorial writer Doug Pike and Iraq veteran Manan Trivedi are vying for the Democratic nod.