Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, who represents parts of Chester, Montgomery, Berks and Lehigh counties in the 6th Congressional District, is in a unique position heading into the 2010 election season.
Although he may stand for re-election, Mr. Gerlach is also the only candidate mentioned as a potential candidate for both the gubernatorial and U.S. Senate primary elections.
In an interview with The Bulletin, he explained his differences with his most likely opponents in next year’s contests.
The gubernatorial race features state Attorney General Tom Corbett, fresh off a substantial re-election victory last November, and former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan. Mr. Gerlach said since both men come from law enforcement backgrounds, voters aren’t aware where they stand on the other issues.
"We don’t know where they are on key issues such as economic development, energy, health care and the environment. These are areas that are important to our families and our communities," he said.
The congressman criticized his opponents’ lack of a voting record as evidence of their inexperience, adding neither potential rival has taken public positions on those issues.
"I’ve got over 18 years experience. My record is very clear about lowering taxes, creating jobs, protecting the environment by pushing for open space and farmland preservation, and advocating energy independence," he said. "We don’t know where Mr. Corbett and Mr. Meehan stand."
Following U.S. Arlen Specter’s defection to the Democratic Party, former U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey, widely considered a social and fiscal conservative by political observers, became the GOP front-runner in the U.S. Senate race.
Mr. Gerlach said it was too early to list his major differences with Mr. Toomey because he didn’t know enough about his voting record to give a specific issue breakdown. He, however, said a clear distinction exists between his overarching political philosophy and Mr. Toomey’s.
"I have a more moderate, more centrist voting record overall, when you compare our voting scores as published by National Journal," Mr. Gerlach said. "I’m sure I have a much more middle-of-the-road approach to things. From that perspective, we would be able to find a number of clear differences between Mr. Toomey and myself."
The congressman believes he would have an easier time against Mr. Specter than Mr. Toomey in the general election, partly because of his potential rival’s Wall Street connections. He bases his contention on the belief he would be more likely to attract Independents and Democrats, while holding onto the GOP base, than Mr. Toomey.
Addressing his strategy for victory in light of the state’s 1.2 million Democratic voter edge, Mr. Gerlach said he would focus on the issues that affect people on everyday.
"On the state level, people want to see lower taxes and a total revamping and reformation of state government, making it more open, transparent and accountable," he said. "Voters want to get rid of no-bid state government contracts because of the pay-to-play environment that exists," he added.
He cited a recent poll that showed him leading Mr. Corbett in eastern Pennsylvania by 8 points and "well ahead" of Mr. Toomey.
"What that tells us is that when voters get to know all the candidates, I do very well," he said.
Regardless of which race Mr. Gerlach chooses to run in, he said the electorate wants a leader who will create jobs and make it easier for people to make a living.
"It comes down to basic, common sense day-to-day issues that must be discussed in the next campaign, and the person who offers the clearest solutions to those problems is going to be the victor," he said.
"Given my breadth of experience on legislative issues compared to my opponents, I’m going to do very well."
Chris Freind can be reached at [email protected]