After U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-District 13) had introduced U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) at a press conference — one that had everything to do with the campaign to represent Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate, and little to do with Schwartz's own re-election bid — Lautenberg, perhaps only half-jokingly, said to her that, "We expect you to win comfortably; otherwise, we are going to be very angry at you."
If fundraising is any indication, Pennsylvania's only Jewish representative in the House ought to have no trouble cruising to re-election. According to the Federal Election Commission, as of June 30, Schwartz had $1.5 million in her campaign war chest.
Her opponent — Republican challenger Raj Peter Bhakta — had a little more than $28,000.
Still, Bhakta — best known for his 2004 appearance as a contestant on the reality-television show "The Apprentice" — insists that he has a real chance to unseat Schwartz, who was first elected to Congress two years after prevailing by roughly 40,000 votes following a bitterly contested campaign against Republican Melissa Brown.
"There is an obsession, a sad obsession, with using money raised as a proxy for the strength of a candidate," stated Bhakta. "We've got a message that people want to hear."
'Save the Northeast'
His message is largely that Northeast Philadelphia — which represents just a portion of the district that also covers a large part of Montgomery County — is being overrun by drugs and crime, and that it's largely the fault of Democratic Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street.
(Bhakta's "Save the Northeast" billboards have appeared all over the area.)
With a national political environment that has proven challenging for Republicans this fall — President George W. Bush and the war in Iraq remain increasingly unpopular — Bhakta has tried to make the focus of the race as local as possible.
But why focus on Street — who's not even his opponent in November?
"His policies are supported by my opponent," he replied, referring to, among other things, Street's emphasis on reforming gun laws, as opposed to hiring more police, to curtail violent crime. "His policies have been utterly detrimental to [the] Northeast, and I oppose them vigorously."
Schwartz believes that tighter national gun laws are indeed what's needed, and if Democrats are able to successfully take back the House on Election Day, then that's exactly what they'll work to achieve.
"We need to change the Republican leadership, who have controlled the national debate," she explained, and who have failed to address the concerns of the majority of average Americans.
Regarding her own race, Schwartz pointed out the discrepancy in experience between herself and her opponent, and argued that since taking office, she'd hit the ground running, bringing home $37 million in federal funds for various projects in the district.
Prior to representing the 13th district, Schwartz served four terms in the Pennsylvania general assembly.
According to his Web site, Bhakta, a 1998 graduate of Boston College, has created and run an automotive technology company, as well as a real estate business.
Schwartz explained that reforming health care remains among her highest legislative priorities — and plans to work to give smaller companies more leverage in negotiating with health-insurance firms.
She also said that reducing the national debt is a must.
"We can't spend money that we don't have," said Schwartz. "We will bring fiscal responsibility back to the federal government."