PolitickerPA - In PA-4, Hart Touts New Political Climate
By Alex Roarty
U.S. House candidate Melissa Hart is counting on 2008 to be different than 2006, when voters in the 4th Congressional District removed her from office amid a tidal wave of anti-GOP sentiment in the state and country.
She can point to one way it already is -- the absence of former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum and GOP gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann. Neither is on the ballot this year, unlike 2006, when each lost by more than 15 points to his Democratic opposition.
Their ill-fated candidacies, combined with a highly unpopular war in Iraq, helped put U.S. Rep. Jason Altmire (D-McCandless) in office, Hart told PolitickerPA.com while knocking on doors in Beaver Borough last Saturday. She was canvassing the area as part of what aides say has become a vigorous grassroots effort to help put Hart back in office.
"Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong in 2006," Hart said.
The difference provided by the top of this year's Republican ticket, John McCain and Sarah Palin, and attempts to paint Altmire as a "Nancy Pelosi liberal" are Hart's two biggest hopes to recapture her former seat.
But she faces an uphill battle against a now well-funded incumbent who has taken pains to portray himself as a centrist. Even Hart's internal polling shows her down by 5 percentage points though she lost by only 4 points in 2006.
The 4th district, particularly Beaver County, is significantly Democratic, at least according to registration numbers. But it typically swings more Republican for national elections -- President George Bush and Democratic nominee John Kerry received nearly the same number of votes in the area in 2004.
In 2006, however, even high-profile Republicans like Swann and Santorum got pummeled because the GOP base did not turn out to vote, said Hart's political director, Joe Weidner.
"Some places that turned out a 1,000 people in 2004 got half that in 2006," he said.
McCain and Palin have helped make the electorate more favorable to Republicans, Weidner said.
"Republicans weren't as excited in 2006," he said. "We haven't heard any of that this time. It's a much different climate."
Hart also cited the widespread unpopularity of the Iraq War in 2006 as a reason she lost. The success of the surge, she said, has taken some of the heat off that issue, although she said people are still eager to bring the troops home.
Those factors have generated a different political climate for her this year, Hart said, and allowed her room to convince voters her conservative values match their own. Those values, she said, include cutting taxes and favoring an energy plan that includes expanded off-shore oil drilling.
And unlike most challengers, Hart said, she has a record to prove it.
"I'm a person who understands government," she said. "My record is clear."