Charismatic Charlie Dent, despite his ties to Team Bush, managed to prevail in a battle that proved closer than many local pundits predicted. He told Channel 69 TV his reelection is proof of the adage that "all politics is local."
But deep pockets don't hurt.
The following is an analysis of the numbers and what they mean. Because this is intelligently written, you'll know it's not my work.
To put Charlie Dent's 16,662 vote margin of victory in perspective, look at the previous election. During a presidential year (when campaigns cost more and more votes are cast), Democrat Driscoll lost by 55,988 votes.
In the 2004 campaign, Driscoll paid $15.88 per vote ($1,820,280 spent divided by 114,646 votes). Dent spent $11.54 per vote ($1,958,631 spent divided by 170,630 votes). Dent got more bang for his buck, for sure, and Driscoll would have had to spend $889,089.44 more to just pull even based on these numbers (55,988 votes he was short times $15.88 per vote as calculated above).
Now look at Dent-Dertinger race. Although it is a non presidential year, what you are about to see will shock you.
Dent spent about $700,000 on his campaign, much less than last time. This is only $6.92 per vote. No one can know what Dent actually spent until December 7th or so, but this is a good conservative estimate.
Charles Dertinger only spent about $75,000 (and a lot of that was in-kind stuff). This translates to $0.89 per vote. Less than $1.00 per vote!
Considering that Dertinger lost by 16,662 votes, Dertinger could have drawn even with Dent with only $14,892.18 from the DCCC. If the DCCC kicked in $115,301.04, that would give Dertinger the same funding per vote as Dent.
So do you think the DCCC and the State Committee missed the boat on this race??? I think the answer is YES.
We all need to work (I know Rob [Hopkins] is going to be doing this) to make sure that the DCCC targets our race next time around so we make this district blue once again. In 2008 it will be 10 years since McHale was our congressman. Lets get this thing done.
PA-15 (Allentown/Bethlehem) is an example of what might have been, a classic demonstration of the arterial schlerosis of the old Democratic Party and above all the need to fight hard in every single district. It has been a slight-majority Democratic district for years. Unions still mean something around here. The district has seen its fair share of bad economic times, and workers have paid a steep price for Republican policies.
Just ask the retirees from the now defunct Bethlehem Steel, whose pension plans were sold out a few years ago in the bankruptcy terms for that industrial giant. There exists a vast well of discontent with the way workers have been treated by corporations and by the federal government.
And our first-term Congressman, Charles Dent, is not wildly popular with working people. He styles himself as a social moderate, but he's a friend of business rather than labor. He's reasonably popular personally; he affects an easy-going air. But he's also slightly dim, and his Congressional office is unresponsive to constituents.
It ought to have been relatively simple to tag Dent with his first-term legislative record. As it became clearer that the Democrats had not found a credible challenger, Dent's voting record become more extremist. His was a classic go-along-to-get-along Republican record. He even travelled to Iraq in 2005 and declared himself satisfied that things were getting better. Dent was, in other words, the typical Republican rubber-stamp.
And yet the local Democrats never bothered to identify a candidate to run in the primary. At the last moment, the County chairman urged one of his acolytes, Charles Dertinger, to run as a write-in candidate in the primary, which he won.
From there, things fell apart in a predictable fashion. Dertinger, a county commissioner with almost no political experience, raised barely any money and could scarcely even get a campaign office open since he had almost no supporters. He received no help from the national Democrats. His campaign was virtually non-existent right up to the end. His positions remained vague. I never got the impression that he was particularly well-liked among Democrats, either.
And yet, very surprisingly, Dent managed to get less than 53% of the vote (a Green candidate garnered several percent). Dent's margin in 2004, against a self-financed candidate from Philadelphia, had been 19%.
It's clear that voters were fed up with Republicans and even with Dent personally. He was highly vulnerable for a range of reasons. In fact, sensing that, Dent had even waged a campaign to win the Democratic nomination as a write-in candidate, hoping to preclude Dertinger's challenge. Talk about tying a bulls-eye to oneself.
You would have thought that local, or state, or national Democrats could have found a way during the last year to nourish a credible, or at least a competent, candidate and have a real go at Dent. Instead, what we ended up with was a protest candidate--who came much closer to winning than I expected.
The Democrats in large areas of Pennsylvania are pretty disfunctional. My wife and I have tried repeatedly to get in touch with our County Democratic party leadership; it doesn't respond, and is in the hands of people who don't want 'help' from the grassroots. The state party has for many years been tied up in knots by the personal agendas of the Democratic leadership in Harrisburg. Gov. Rendell has ameliorated the situation only slightly because he's eager to get his own agenda passed.
So the state in many ways really needs help organizing from the national Democrats. Here in largely urban/suburban PA-15, just north of Philadelphia, in a majority Democratic district, the party machinery is virtually non-existent. A major opportunity was lost here this year.
Another Country Heard From: John Morgan at Pa Progressive rates the Dertinger campaign as one of the three worst in 2006. Why?
Dertinger never raised the money necessary to run an effective campaign. Rob Hopkins did a wonderful job with the resources at his disposal but they were too few. There was no candidate until after the primary and that's too late in the cycle for serious fund raising and establishing name recognition. Why can't we run a competitive campaign in the Lehigh Valley?