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In Pennsylvania, signs that 'Republican revolution' could repeat itself

In Pennsylvania's 17th Congressional District, a Republican challenger with little money poses a serious threat to a Democratic incumbent with deep pockets. Does the race portend a Republican revolution à la 1994?

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In another year, Republican state Sen. David Argall would have little chance of toppling nine-term Rep. Tim Holden (D). Mr. Holden is a popular incumbent who typically votes his district, rather than his party, on issues ranging from health care to climate change.

Moreover, Holden is expected to vastly outspend Mr. Argall in the crucial last few weeks of the race. The Republican challenger had barely $30,000 on hand, compared with $938,827 for the incumbent, according to a June 30 report from the Center for Responsive Politics. But Argall is reaching out to national conservative groups for help.

“I’m not going to outspend him,” Argall says, with understatement, before speaking at the annual independent coal miners’ picnic in Hegins Park, Pa., a small Schuylkill County mining community about an hour north of Harrisburg, on Aug. 14. “If it’s a purely local race, the incumbent wins every time. But if it’s truly a national race like 1994, then I have a chance.”

In 1994, Republicans swept back into power in the House of Representatives for the first time in 40 years on a campaign that charged that the majority had become corrupt and unresponsive. Democrats were stunned to lose 55 seats in a wave of voter outrage. In a rare exception to the rule that all politics is local, that takeover was based on national themes rather than local ones and signaled a widespread rejection of Democratic Party power.

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