Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper
Previously published on Nov 12, 2010
Moderate Democrats, without regard to their voting records and the motivation behind their votes, took the brunt of the tsunami against the Democratic leadership. In the case of Pennsylvania Third District Freshman Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper, this was certainly true. Her opponent, Republican Mike Kelly, ran a rather weak campaign that focused more on Nancy Pelosi than Dahlkemper's actual contributions to the legislative process. Last year, she had sent voters a small report card on what major legislator messages she voted for, cosponsored, and introduced. The list was rather remarkable for a Freshmen Congresswoman, but I was most impressed with the nature of a few measures she pursued as well as her careful study of the issues. Instead of trying to bring home the pork to Erie and Crawford County, she pushed initiatives that would benefit companies within her district, such as GE Transportation, but only because they were also valuable investments for the Country as a whole.
In many respects, I feel the Democratic Party almost wrote off the Third District and left Dahlkemper to mainly fend for herself. Although our region has long had a strong Republican presence, i.e. there are usually no Democratic challengers in our State Congressional elections, most residents are moderates and, even devote Republicans, embrace a far more compromising Republican view thanks in part to issues like outsourcing. As someone who lives in the red hills of Crawford County, I engage in political conversation with Republicans and independents from all walks of life on a consistent basis. The truth is that we are more interested in our candidates' ideas and their ability to enact those ideas than their affiliation, thus the Democratic Party has a real chance in the Third District, if it would just buildup its presence by devoting some resources.
When I walked into the Stueben Township building to vote, I asked the poll workers how good the turnout was; by early afternoon, they had already seen a high turnout of about a quarter of our 400 some registered voters, which is good but sad. I also found, once again, only the Republican campaigns had bothered to post signs near the voting center. Of course, just a few days earlier, no one would have known an election was underway except for a couple of GOP signs in one or two private driveways. In fact, I received only about two or three mailings from the Democrats during the last week of the Midterm; between Monday and Tuesday morning, I had a stack of GOP mailings. Democrats may have brought Bill Clinton in for Dahlkemper, but they barely paid any attention to voters who weren't in their base. This is exactly why GOP messages like "Republicans are listening" resonate so well. Meanwhile, it did not help President Obama rolled out another round of tens of billion of dollar in spending for jobs creation, among other necessary, yet costly, measures, just weeks before the Midterm vote.
For Dahlkemper's part, she probably would have won with their campaign effort in a normal year. Dahlkemper had obviously grown far more confident in her campaign ads this time around, but this year she needed a different strategy. (She appeared a little nervous in some ads, but nowhere as nervous as she did in her first campaign against longtime incumbent Phil English; her sometimes nervous demeanor has been taken by undecided voters as a lack of certainty in her views and by opposition voters as a sign she is a puppet.) I feel she had a couple of really good ads such as one where she fully rejected claims that she voted for the bailouts by shoving the record in our faces. She did, however, have weak ads, such as one where she simply claimed she had a choice as an unmarried, young woman and chose life. Other ads asserting her pro-life stance were better, but they did not reflect the most pressing issue of the economy. In her defense, these ads were a reaction to unrelenting pro-life groups that believe the Healthcare Reform bill funds abortion, despite how much legislators bent over backwards trying to insert redundant measures into the bill forbidding taxpayer funded abortions.
When looking at ousted representatives like Kathy Dahlkemper, it is clear the dynamics of politics in places like Pennsylvania are driven by the issues of the day. Yes, Party mattered more in this race, but voters were more or less voting to counterbalance the liberal leadership in Washington versus voting against specific candidates. Pennsylvania has a history as a conservative Commonwealth, yet, since the beginning of George W. Bush Administration, it had rapidly turned into a reliably blue state. In 2010, it instantly turned red once again. The reason is not because Pennsylvanians are driven to Republican policies; but rather, it is the result of an electorate that seeks out the best ideas and representatives for their views under the current circumstances. In this Midterm Election, the interest of the People focused on checking the Democratic leadership's agenda, but the next election may well be more local.
When all is said and done, I think Dahlkemper actually has a very good chance in the 2012 Congressional race. She does need to give Mike Kelley time to build a voting record that will likely suggest he is simply another vote for the GOP and supports policies that, for example, hurt the manufacturing sector, i.e. he is a free trader versus a fair trader. (This is not to suggest Mike Kelley should be undermined in anyway, but his professed views, which did not come with many specifics, and his experiences in office, suggest that as a Republican he will not have much of an independent voice.) This probably means waiting a year before launching an offensive specifically against the Congressmen. What Dahlkemper must not do is constantly blame the anti-incumbency wave for her misfortune, thus Democratic Party representatives should spend their time visiting often neglected areas in the Third District and others to simply listen to what the People want as they prepare for the next election season.