Democratic Upset Brewing? Joe Pitts in Trouble In PA-16
by Sandi Behrns
Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA16) has been in the House since 1997. Originally vowing to serve no more than 10 years, he reneged on that promise in 2006. Through 6 reelection cycles, he has withstood no significant opposition. In fact, the same Democrat opposing him this year ran against him in 2006, losing by nearly 20 points. Pennsylvania’s 16th District is just about as red as they come.
So imagine the mood at Democrat Lois Herr’s campaign headquarters last night when the news came in that a new poll conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) shows Herr trailing Pitts by a mere 7 points, (41%-34%). A substantial number, 26%, are still undecided. The poll also shows that Pitts’ approval rating continues to slip, coming in at 42%, well within the danger-zone for incumbents; andjust 38% believe he deserves another term. Rep. Pitts’ numbers are particularly bad with Independents, with whom he has an approval rating of just 40%. All of a sudden, Pennsylvania 16 has the potential to be one of the biggest upsets of 2010.
So what has changed for Pitts this year? For one thing, Progressives nationally, and women locally, became much more aware of Pitts following the infamous anti-abortion “Stupak-Pitts” amendment to the House healthcare bill. Rep. Pitts is not just anti-abortion, though, he is also anti-birth control. When the story of the secretive religious-political group known as “The Family” (of “C Street” fame) broke last Fall, Rep. Pitts’ involvement with the group going back to the 1970s was revealed. He also took the highly unpopular position of voting against the extension of unemployment benefits, despite the fact that between a state pension and his congressional salary, he has an annual income of $264,867, all courtesy of tax payers.
The truth is that PA-16 may not be quite as red as we think. While a large chunk of the 16th is rural Lancaster County, it also encompasses most of the southwest Philadelphia suburbs of Chester County. Although Pitts won in 2008 with 56% of the vote, Barack Obama just barely lost the district (48%-51%). Add to this the fact that Lois Herr has been running a great campaign, and it all spells trouble for Pitts.
Lois Herr was born and raised in Lancaster County, has run for this seat twice before, and has good name-recognition. She was a successful businessperson, becoming one of the first females to break through the glass ceiling at AT&T in the 1970s. Her strong, pro-woman message contrasts sharply with her opponent. In the rural parts of the district, the fact that Ms. Herr formerly owned a farm in the area plays well.
“It is clear from this poll and from talking with voters in the 16th District that after 14 years, people are tired of being unrepresented by Congressman Pitts,” Herr said. “The numbers show what I’ve already been hearing: no matter what party people belong to, they want a Representative who will solve problems for everyone, not just demagogue on a single issue.”
Herr’s former communications director, Beth Becker says, “I’ve rarely seen a candidate work harder than Lois. She is out in the community shaking hands, talking to people and making connections. And it’s working for her.”
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