Val Arkoosh – headed to Congress?

    Over the years I’ve met a lot of smart, committed people who decide to run for office for the right reasons, but have no clue what it takes to win. So they fight the good fight and move on.

    Valerie Arkoosh has no intention of being one of those people.

    Arkoosh is a physician who’s made a name for herself in health care reform and is now running for the Philadelphia-Montgomery County Congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz. She faces a formidable field in the Democratic primary, which is next May.

    There’s Marjorie Margolies, who held the seat 20 years ago and is tight with the Clintons; State Sen. Daylin Leach, who is an unabashed liberal with a hilarious campaign video; and State Rep. Bendan Boyle, the only Philadelphia in the race against three suburbanites.

    Sit down with Arkoosh for half an hour and you can’t help but be impressed. A physician who decided her patients needed more than a competent doctor, she went to public health school and got involved in the fight for health care reform well before President Obama was elected.

    She became president of the National Physicians Alliance and spent time in Washington building relationships and working on policy, and travelling around the country getting other doctors engaged. She’s been a regular cable TV guest on health care for years.

    She says she brings not only health policy chops and medical experience, but a background and approach that Washington needs.  “As a doctor, I’m trained to solve problems, all day every day,” she told me. “As doctors, if plan A doesn’t work, we go to plan B, and then plan C, and we just don’t give up.”

    Does she have a shot?

    Arkoosh has no name recognition, no political office, and no endorsements from politicians or unions. As I said, she’s impressive, but most voters won’t get 30 minutes to spend with her.

    Still, a number of folks I respect say she has a real shot. While she hasn’t run for office, she’s spent plenty time with folks in the political class, and her husband Jeff Harbison is a commissioner in Springfield Township. Besides the health reform credentials, which still appeal to Democrats, she can say she’s the only candidate in the race who’s never held elected office – the old “I’m not a politician” pitch.

    More important, there’s this: Val Arkoosh has raised more money so far than any of her Democratic rivals. With $732,000 as of the last campaign filing, Arkoosh had raised more than $200,000 more than her closest rival. She has friends and networks and she calls on them.

    Arkoosh spends hours every day on the phone, calling for dollars and support, and tries to get to community gatherings and committee meetings in the evenings. It takes a lot of personal discipline to raise money, but it’s a part of the business than often separates winners from losers.

    In this respect she reminds me of Michael Nutter the year before he ran for mayor. And like Nutter, she’ll be in a multi-candidate primary field where anything can happen and you can win with a surprisingly modest vote total. Nutter got 104,000 votes in 2007, less than 14 percent of registered Democrats.

    I’m not predicting Arkoosh will win, or should. But she’s one to watch.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.