Working-class blues

"Working-class blues" Continued...

Issue: "Rocks in their heads?," Sept. 11, 2010

The race presents voters with a choice between a longtime Washington staffer in Critz, 48, and a political novice in Burns, a 42-year-old businessman. This is a distinction Burns is happy to emphasize in the nation's current antiestablishment climate.

"I am NOT a politician," Burns says on the home page of his campaign website. "I don't claim to know 'how Washington works' because I don't believe that it does."

Waltermyer, the 54-year-old Presbyterian pastor, says he sees cracks in the Democratic stronghold here: Tea Party events draw crowds, and thousands lined up at a local strip mall-some waiting for as long as 17 hours-for a Sarah Palin book-signing last year.

Stirring voter anger is the growing national debt, according to Dave Schofield, 47, who works for a local museum. The Congressional Budget Office conservatively projects that the nation faces $6.2 trillion in additional deficits over the next decade. Such data, said Schofield, is getting area fiscal conservatives off the political sidelines.

"As much as George Bush contributed to it, Barack Obama has made him seem like a thrifty Scotsman," Schofield said.

Such sentiments may not bode well for Pennsylvania's congressional incumbents. The state has eight Democratic-held House seats that are listed as vulnerable by campaign watchers. Some of those are seats Democrats wrested from Republicans in 2006 and 2008 elections. But today the GOP holds a 48 percent to 39 percent overall preference advantage among Pennsylvania voters, according to an August survey by Public Policy Polling.

In these House races, four Democratic incumbents currently trail in polls released by Ayers McHenry and Associates. Besides Critz, Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper, the freshman Democrat for the state's 3rd Congressional District (who voted for Obamacare despite past pro-life positions), is facing a 14--point gap against Republican challenger Mike Kelly. Many see the House within reach of conservatives, but a party switch will likely require GOP pickups in the Keystone State.

Back in Washington, Pa., Critz held a recent town hall at the county courthouse. There 61-year-old Don Tice, according to the Pittsburg Post-Gazette, asked Critz: "Do you really think that President Obama will turn the economy around?"

Critz responded by downplaying the district's dire mood. "There's so much negativity about how bad it is," he said. "But I've seen worse."

That answer left Tice unconvinced: "My opinion is, if I'm voting for [Critz], I'm voting for Obama."

In a nutshell, that is the challenge facing such Democratic incumbents: trying to prove to disgruntled voters that their party has solutions while at the same time demonstrating they are not in lockstep with increasingly unpopular leaders or their policies. To survive a sullen, pessimistic public, Critz and others must prove that they can ward off Beltway Blinders.
To hear Edward Lee Pitts discuss this topic on the Knowing the Truth radio program, click here.

Edward Lee Pitts
Edward Lee Pitts

Lee teaches journalism at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa, and is the associate dean of the World Journalism Institute.


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