Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Pennsylvania 6: It’s Not That Simple

By Nathan L. Gonzales

Recent polling numbers released by Democratic candidate Bob Roggio in Pennsylvania’s 6th district aren’t that unreasonable or that different from his opponent’s most recent poll. But the corresponding analysis of the race to come dramatically underestimates Roggio’s uphill battle against GOP Rep. Jim Gerlach.

A June 21-24 Benenson Strategy Group poll for the retired businessman showed him trailing the Congressman, 49 percent to 32 percent. Those numbers are similar to Gerlach’s advantage, 56 percent to 30 percent, in his own poll, conducted May 20-21 by Public Opinion Strategies.

Democrats touted Gerlach’s job rating in their poll (39 percent excellent or good compared with 47 percent fair or poor) as a sign of the incumbent’s vulnerability and noted the absence of a job rating number in the Republican’s memo. Gerlach did include his personal rating, 58 percent favorable/20 percent unfavorable, in relation to Roggio’s 4 percent favorable/1 percent unfavorable, while identification numbers were omitted from the Democratic poll.

According to Roggio’s news release, “the race for PA-6 is just beginning,” playing time as an asset in the race. But that’s precisely the challenger’s problem.

Gerlach was first elected in 2002, with 51 percent, over attorney Dan Wofford (D). Wofford entered the race with higher-than-usual name identification for a challenger, because his father is a former U.S. Senator, and he was able to use his connections to outspend Gerlach $1.4 million to $1.1 million.

Two years later, attorney and former Ed Rendell campaign aide Lois Murphy (D) spent $1.9 million in her losing challenge. Gerlach prevailed that cycle, 51 percent to 49 percent, and spent $2.2 million in the process.

Murphy never really stopped running and jumped into a rematch in 2006. She ended up outspending the incumbent (more than $4 million to almost $3.5 million), but losing again narrowly, 50.7 percent to 49.3 percent. The candidate spending doesn’t count more than $3 million from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and almost $3.9 million from the National Republican Congressional Committee. EMILY’s List chipped in another $166,000 on Murphy’s behalf. But it wasn’t enough.

The Roggio campaign has boiled the race down to a simple task.

“As soon as voters are introduced to Bob Roggio through a biographical paragraph, Gerlach’s lead vanishes and Bob Roggio assumes a 7% lead,” according to the campaign’s release.

Well, that should be easy. At least the 500 likely general election voters sampled in the poll know who Roggio is, but he’s going to have a hard time introducing himself to the larger electorate in one of the most expensive media markets in the country.

The Democrat raised $205,200 through April 2 and had $168,259 in the bank. That’s not a lot of dough considering a reasonable ad buy for one week in the Philadelphia market will be at least half a million dollars. Television costs about $600 per point there, according to Media Strategies and Research.

But even if Roggio is able to put together some money to get out his message, there is no guarantee it will resonate. Murphy and the Democrats spent at least $9 million over a three-year stretch, but Gerlach was still re-elected twice. And undoubtedly, Gerlach will have something to say about Roggio as well and will attempt to define his Democratic opponent. The Congressman raised more than $1.5 million through April 2, with almost $715,000 on hand.

Gerlach will never be safe in a district that Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) won by 3 points in the 2004 White House election. And the Congressman could lose if a dramatic Democratic wave develops in the region because of Sen. Barack Obama’s (D-Ill.) efforts to appeal to suburban voters. But Gerlach won’t lose simply because people got to know Roggio.

This item first appeared on on July 3, 2008. 2008 © Roll Call Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.