Pa. in the spotlight with 2 House races

Patrick Meehan hugs his wife, Carolyn, after announcement at their Upper Darby home.
Patrick Meehan hugs his wife, Carolyn, after announcement at their Upper Darby home.
Posted: September 15, 2009

Brace yourselves, suburban voters. It's happening again.

Former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan's entrance yesterday into the Delaware County-based 7th Congressional District race, following U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach's decision to vacate his 6th District seat in the western suburbs, means that southeastern Pennsylvania will likely host another proxy war between the national political parties in 2010.

Meehan, a well-known Republican, declared his candidacy standing outside his Upper Darby home with his wife and three sons by his side. "I have looked the citizens of this commonwealth in the eyes as they shared with me their deepest fears and their greatest hopes," he said. "They have told me they feel as if their voice just isn't being heard in Washington, that the representatives they have elected have sold them out to the special interests, and that government now seems to be something that's imposed upon them, rather than something that's working for them."

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.

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