Open Pa. congressional seat sets off a scramble

     In this May 17, 2013 file photo, Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Gerlach, one of a shrinking number of GOP moderates in the House, has announced he will retire from Congress at the end of his term. (Charles Dharapak/AP Photo, file)

    In this May 17, 2013 file photo, Rep. Jim Gerlach, R-Pa. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. Gerlach, one of a shrinking number of GOP moderates in the House, has announced he will retire from Congress at the end of his term. (Charles Dharapak/AP Photo, file)

    Hey, wanna go to Congress?

    Opportunity is knocking in Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District, which was created for, and is now being abandoned by, incumbent Republican Jim Gerlach. The bizarrely-shaped district includes parts of Chester, Montgomery, Berks and Lebanon counties, and with Gerlach’s surprise announcement that he won’t seek re-election, it’s up for grabs in 2014

    When I say it’s an opportunity, I’m not kidding. With highly partisan redistricting, there aren’t many competitive seats in the country anymore, and precious few seats are open in any given cycle. But this year, Pennsylvania’s 6th is both.

    In a normal year, you can raise and spend a small fortune to take on an incumbent and fail. But in a situation like this, where a seat suddenly opens and all potential candidates are caught by surprise, you might win a multi-candidate primary fight without a ton of votes.

    And if you get either party’s nomination, you can count on millions in support from national interests in the fall as money pours into the battle for control of Congress.

    Who’s in?

    There are plenty of potential candidates, none of whom is an obvious front runner.

    Among Republicans, Montgomery County state Sen. John Rafferty, Chester County Republican Chairman Val DiGiorgio, Chester County Commissioner Ryan Costello, and former Berks County state Rep. Sam Rohrer are possible contenders.

    One Democrat, businessman Michael Parrish, is a declared candidate. Others Democrats being discussed include Berks County state Sen. Judy Schwank, Dr. Manan Trivedi, who ran and lost twice to Gerlach, and former Inquirer editorial writer Doug Pike, who ran for the seat in 2010.

    There are too many of them to call, and most are still trying to figure out what the field is. I tried to reach Rafferty, unsuccessfully. I spoke briefly to Schwank, who says she’s getting plenty of calls, but doesn’t know what she’ll do. My call to Trivedi was returned by his former campaign aide, Daren Berringer, who said Trivedi had not planned to run, but now will give it some thought.

    Fun to come

    It will be interesting. The district has more registered Republicans than Democrats, and leans moderate. Which means a moderate Republican might play best in a general election, but could be vulnerable in a primary if tea party conservatives unite around a candidate, maybe Rohrer.

    I also wondered whether any of the four Democrats fighting for the open 13th District in Montgomery County and Philadelphia might consider taking their campaigns into the 6th instead. You aren’t legally required to live in the congressional district you represent, and two of the candidates in the 13th don’t.

    But it doesn’t look like any are jumping. 

    So think about it — got a yen for public office and a few hundred friends to call for money? It could be fun to go to Washington.

    That’s what Gerlach probably thought when he left his state Senate seat and went to Congress in 2002. He’s concluded it isn’t so much fun to wallow in partisan bickering and get nothing done.

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