In many ways, the 6th Congressional
District was made for Jim Gerlach and yet in his second re-election campaign he
is being labeled as one of the most endangered incumbents in the country.
was a state senator when Republican lawmakers created the 6th District after the
2000 census. The district, running from the wealthy suburbs of Philadelphia out
to the former manufacturing towns of Reading and Pottstown, was carved out with
the idea of bolstering the number of Republicans in Congress from Pennsylvania.
was created instead was one of the nation's few truly swing districts and a Congressional
seat that Gerlach, a moderate Republican, has had to battle constantly to continue
But Gerlach is quick to point out that many of his elections
have been hard fought affairs. After settling in Chest County after graduating
from Dickinson University and later law school, he ran for the state House in
1990. The campaign was a close one and in the end Gerlach was elected by 23 votes.
But he soon had his sights on a seat in the state Senate which he ran for and
won four years later.
By 2002, Republicans made the state senator the obvious
beneficiary of the new 6th District. Yet Gerlach's campaign to win the new seat
turned out to be another bruising affair as he faced off against Dan Wofford,
a political newcomer who had headed the Philadelphia Education Fund's College
Access Program and was also the son of still-popular former U.S. Sen. Harris Wofford.
centered on his accomplishments in the state legislature, including his work to
pass welfare reform and to make it easier for low-income seniors to get prescription
drugs. Wofford countered he was too conservative for Pennsylvanian voters and
that he was a "career politician" who believed 12 years in Harrisburg meant an
"automatic ticket to Washington."
National Republicans poured more than
$1.5 million into advertising on behalf of Gerlach and the GOP state senator spent
another $1.3 million. Democrats countered with their own spending spree, but in
the end, Gerlach came out ahead, by some 5,500 votes.
Two years later, Democrats
targeted Gerlach as one of the nation's most vulnerable freshmen. Wofford passed
on the rematch and Lois Murphy, who had run Gov. Ed Rendell's campaign in Montgomery
County and had worked in the Washington and Pennsylvania offices of an abortion
rights group, stepped up to run. Murphy earned the backing of national Democrats
and EMILYS List, a political action committee dedicated to electing women who
support abortion rights to Congress among others. Her uphill battle to gain name
recognition and oust Gerlach fell just short, despite spending more than $1.9
After surviving two closely fought races, Gerlach has turned to
national leaders and received noticeable help in his 2006 reelection campaign.
March, President Bush attended a $1000-a-head fundraiser, where Gerlach garnered
$150,000 of the $470,000 he raised in the last quarter.
"I am so honored
to be standing next to two of the young stars of the United States Congress,"
President Bush said. "Jim Gerlach and Mike Fitzpatrick are really talented congressmen,
and they deserve to be re-elected."
The president added that Gerlach has
been a thoughtful member of Congress during the last four years.
an independent voice, which is good for the people of his district," Mr. Bush
But with the president's popularity sagging in the district, Gerlach
has also called on more popular Republicans like Sen. John McCain of Arizona,
to bolster his campaign.
"This is a man who has served with distinction,"
McCain said of Gerlach. "This is a person I think we can all look up to and be
proud of because of his integrity, because of his honesty, and because of his
continuous 24-7 work on behalf of the people of this district."
to the support of key GOP leaders, Gerlach has been able to garner the backing
of the National Education Association's political wing, a group that backed opponent
Lois Murphy in 2004.
Linda Cook, president of the Southeastern Region of
the Pennsylvania State Education Association, said Gerlach had a "strong record
for students and for public education."
For Gerlach, who grew up in western
Pennsylvania between Pittsburgh and Youngstown, Ohio, the core issues of education,
tax reduction and support for most of the president's Iraq policy may hold the
key for another close electoral victory.