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Veteran congressman faces deep-pocketed challenger

By John Craven, Reporter, JCraven@wfmz.com
Published On: Apr 16 2012 07:00:00 PM CDT
Updated On: Apr 20 2012 02:54:51 PM CDT

For a guy who's been in Congress two decades, this is new territory for Tim Holden. Literally.

Thanks to redistricting, some of you are getting a new congressman.

Rep. Tim Holden, a 20-year Washington veteran, hopes to keep his 17th District seat. But he's battling for his political future -- not against a Republican, but another Democrat.

For a guy who's been in Congress two decades, this is new territory for Holden. Literally.

"About 75 or 76 percent of this congressional district is new," he said.

Long familiar to Berks County voters, Holden's 17th congressional district now covers Easton, as well as parts of the Slate Belt and coal region. He's now fighting to keep his seat in next week's Democratic primary.

"Obviously, the biggest challenge is, people did not know who I am," he said.

But Holden's other challenge is a Scranton-area lawyer named Matt Cartwright, who some political watchers believe could pull off a major upset.

"There's seniority and then there's people who use their seniority effectively," said Cartwright. "We have not seen that from Tim Holden."

Although Cartwright trails in the overall money race, he now has nearly twice as much cash left to spend. Campaign finance records show Holden has raised $916,707 overall, compared to Cartwright's $707,043 haul.

But after an expensive campaign, Cartwright still has $279,011 on hand, compared to the $132,232 Holden has left.

Cartwright is spending his cash on ads attacking Holden's moderate voting record. Cartwright believes Holden is too conservative, pointing to votes where he sided with Republicans.

One current ad says: "Tim Holden uses vicious ads, and won't debate his votes against health care and for the Halliburton loophole."

Holden said he's proud of his bi-partisan record.

"I've prided myself in really staying out of the petty partisan bickering and trying to find solutions to the problems that my constituents face," he said.

Holden strikes back in his own ad, attempting to tie his challenger to a bribery scandal involving two judges who Cartwright previously gave money to two years earlier.

Two Luzerne Co. judges pleaded guilty to taking more than $2 million in bribes to send kids to private juvenile facilities.

"It is an utter outrage that Mr. Holden attempted to connect me to the 'Cash for Kids' scandal," said Cartwright. "If anything, I was one of the people who helped clean up the mess."

Holden defended the ad.

"He donated to their campaigns," he said. "He never asked for the money back."

The Democratic primary is next Tuesday. The winner will face Republican Laureen Cummings, a nurse who founded the Scranton Tea Party. Cummings initially ran for the U.S. Senate this year, but dropped out in January.

The new 17th District is heavily Democratic.