Republicans targeting Holden

January 12, 2010

Pennsylvania state senator David Argall announced his candidacy against Rep. Tim Holden (D-Pa.) today, landing Republicans a politically-experienced recruit to run against one of the most battle-tested members of Congress.

Argall, who has served in the Pennsylvania state legislature for the last 24 years, told POLITICO he has a political profile to give Holden a competitive race for the first time since 2004. Argall won a special election last year to win the state Senate seat after spending most of his career in the state House.

He said that the National Republican Congressional Committee aggressively recruited him, and met with committee officials twice in Washington before launching his campaign.

“People reached out to me because they think I can win. I routinely win my district in excess of 60-70 percent of the vote… they did not want to just find another sacrificial lamb to run against the congressman,” Argall told POLITICO.

“People are just so upset with the economy, so upset with the way Congress is being operated, all the backroom deals with health care. People are being much closer attention to Congress in the five counties [in the district] than anything I’ve seen before.”

Holden, a former county sheriff, has held onto his Republican-leaning seat with assiduous constituent service and has taken pivotal votes at odds with party leadership. A Blue Dog Democrat, he voted against health care legislation, and opposed the cap-and-trade energy bill that passed the House last year.

He won a ninth term last year with 64 percent of the vote, and hasn’t been targeted since 2004 when Republicans rested their hopes on beating him with Scott Paterno, son of the famed Penn State football coach.

The sprawling Harrisburg-based district has favored Republicans, giving John McCain 51 percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential election, and George W. Bush 58 percent of the vote.

Argall is from Schuykill County, Holden’s political base and one of the most populous parts of the district.

Argall has his own vulnerabilities as a longtime legislator, which Democrats quickly pointed out in the wake of his candidacy. Argall won’t be able to contrast himself as a political outsider after spending much of his career in Harrisburg.

He supported a controversial state legislative pay raise in 2005, which proved so unpopular in Pennsylvania that many lawmakers who supported the pay hikes lost their re-election bids. Argall managed to survive politically, handily winning re-election and comfortably prevailing in last year’s state Senate special election.

“It was probably the dumbest vote I ever cast. I apologized and assured voters I would not be doing it again,” said Argall, who pointed out that Holden had also voted for pay raises in Congress.

Argall is the latest Republican recruit to put a Democratic-held seat in play in Pennsylvania, and there will be more emerging in the upcoming weeks. The NRCC expects to contest at least five seats in the state, and are close to landing favored candidates against Reps. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.) and Chris Carney (D-Pa.)

Former GOP congressman Mike Fitzpatrick is reportedly considering a comeback against Rep. Patrick Murphy (D-Pa.), who defeated him in 2006.

And the committee is bullish about the candidacy of former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan, who is running to succeed Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.), who is running for the Senate.