How Did Gerlach Dodge Disenchantment Bullet?

From the outset, the 2007 election cycle looked to be a challenging one for the Republican Party, yet many political observers in the area predicted that incumbents Michael Fitzpatrick (R-District 8) and Curt Weldon (R-District 7) would be able to overcome public disenchantment with the president and the war in Iraq, and hold on to their seats.

On the other hand, U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-District 6), locked in a difficult rematch with Democratic challenger Lois Murphy, was the one pegged by the experts to turn out as a loss. Yet, on the day after the Democratic Party took back the House, Gerlach was the only Philadelphia-area Republican House member left standing.

Now, he has also left many wondering just how he managed to dodge the bullet.

"We had a great campaign team. We worked very hard to demonstrate to voters that we are an independent and moderate voice," said the 51-year-old. "I'm honored that they have chosen me to represent their district. If voters recognize that you care about their problems, they will give you their vote."

In the end, Gerlach proved to be a much tougher campaigner than many realized in a race that wound up as one of the most expensive in the nation.

Demographics played a part. While he got slammed by Murphy in Montgomery County — which was once solidly Republican, but over the last decade has grown far more welcoming to Democrats — he won by comfortable margins on his home turf of Chester County, as well as in Berks and Lehigh counties, suggesting that the makeup of the 6th District may still give a Republican candidate a slight edge.

Gerlach said that, in the wake of its monumental defeat, the Republican Party as a whole has to work to be more cooperative with Democrats, and help create a more cordial and productive atmosphere on Capitol Hill.

"The bottom line is that people wanted to shake things up and to get Congress' attention," said Gerlach, who hopes to remain on both the Transportation and Infrastructure, and the Financial Services committees, but added that it's too soon to tell if he'll be reassigned.

"They said that we're tired of the members of Congress that are corrupt, that have used their offices for their own personal gain," he added.

With regard to the foremost issue of the day — namely, Iraq — Gerlach offered mixed reviews for the just released Iraq Study Group Report, which called for the United States to put more pressure on the Iraqi government to help quell the violence and stabilize the country.

"It is very clear that we need to push this Iraqi government to step up and do more. We've got to figure out how to stabilize this government," said Gerlach.

He took some issue with the report's conclusions that linked solving the Iraqi situation with progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front.

"I don't understand the connection as of yet," he said. "Certainly, the conflict with the Palestinians is an ongoing problem.

"But I think they are two separate matters. We have to give all the support we can to Ehud Olmert and his government, and hopefully, find the right mix of individuals who want peace," he added.

Engagement's Okay
Gerlach also stated that he cautiously supports the report's recommendations that the United States engage in direct talks with Iran over the instability in Iraq.

"Let's recognize that the regime in Iran is extremely dangerous," he stated. "But you never know from that process what benefit and outcomes can occur. There is nothing wrong with trying to engage them." 



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