Colby Itkowitz reports that John Callahan was in DC for DCCC candidate training, leading to speculation that he may have another go at Charlie Dent for the 15th District seat.
I think this would be a smart choice for several reasons.
Exhibit A: Charlie Dent’s bait and switch on Medicare leaves him extremely vulnerable in 2012. Dent ran his campaign as a valiant protector of Medicare, disingenuously blasting the Democrats for “half a trillion dollars” in Medicare cuts. But once he got reelected, not only did he vote to keep all those same cuts, he voted to phase out the program. This vote is hideously unpopular. To get a sense of how toxic this vote is, just look at the hilarious spectacle of panicked House Republican freshmen begging Barack Obama not to hold them accountable for ending Medicare. Welcome to politics, n00bs.
Exhibit B: Barack Obama and Bob Casey are going to be at the top of the ticket, and Callahan will benefit from their coattails. Democrats have the lead on the generic ballot. Obama and Casey both need to win the 15th district, so Callahan will be able to piggyback on a very well-funded, well-organized turnout operation. Whoever makes it through the Republican primary is guaranteed to be unelectable in the general election. Faced with a weak field, the GOP base is going to nominate radical candidates for both the White House and the Senate, and they will have negative coattails for Charlie Dent.
Exhibit C: While other bloggers have attributed Callahan’s loss in 2010 to candidate effects, or ideological effects, there just isn’t any evidence for this view. 2010 was a terrible year for all Democrats, and that’s because their base didn’t show up. The electorate in 2010 was much older, whiter and more conservative than the 2008 electorate, and the 2012 electorate is bound to look more like 2008 than 2010. Youth and minority turnout are much higher in Presidential elections than in midterms.
Exhibit D: One of Dent’s most effective talking points was probably that Bethlehem’s deficit was the result of Callahan’s fiscal mismanagement. This was always wrong – the deficit was the result of the weak economy depressing tax receipts - but the fact of the deficit no doubt made this seem like a reasonable explanation to a lot of people. By the time the campaign starts next year, the economy will probably be doing considerably better, and Bethlehem’s revenues will have mostly recovered. The hotel, the mall and conference center, the Greenway will all be functioning, and several more projects will probably be under construction. People will be feeling good about Bethlehem’s future, and the case that Callahan’s not doing a good job is going to feel tone deaf. If Callahan puts the Bethlehem comeback story front and center in his campaign in a less generic way than in 2010, that’s a powerful political narrative.
Exhibit E: A few miscellaneous factors would seem to favor Callahan. Charlie Dent is a possible Senate candidate. If he doesn’t run for Senate this year, it’s going to be a very long time before he can try again, because Pat Toomey has the other seat, so he’d have to wait until the next time the Casey seat is up. That’s got to be pretty tempting, especially considering how weak the GOP field is. Dent’s supposedly more powerful now because he’s on Appropriations, but the pork ban has left him totally impotent, unable to hand out large cardboard checks to boost his popularity. Maybe he’ll flaunt it closer to the election, but that would leave him vulnerable to a Republican primary. It seems likely that he’ll face a Tea Party primary anyway. There have been a few votes where he said he didn’t want to cut spending as much as the ultras in the Republican Study Committee. He’s also going to have to vote for the debt ceiling increase, and that alone could sink him in a GOP primary.