Already facing a test from within his own party, Pennsylvania's longest-tenured congressman has a new set of voices challenging his bid for an 11th term. And they're coming from far outside of the state.
The Campaign for Primary Accountability, a Dallas-based Super PAC, says it plans to spend six figures on "full spectrum warfare" again Holden. The PAC, which campaigns against incumbent congressmen on both sides of the aisle, aims to use radio, television, the Internet and direct mail to target Holden, spokesman Curtis Ellis said.
Holden, a conservative Democrat, is also facing scrutiny from Blue America, a smaller PAC created in 2005 by three liberal bloggers. Blue America launched a billboard campaign against Holden throughout the district, including a billboard on Route 33 nearPalmer Township.
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The new 17th District will cover part of Northampton County, including the Easton and Slate Belt regions as well as Nazareth,Bethlehem Township and a sliver of Bethlehem beginning in 2013. Some Democrats in the Easton area have already questioned whether Holden is liberal enough to represent the city.
With Holden trying to introduce himself to a district vastly changed under the state's new congressional map, the negative advertisements could hurt his image with new voters, said Thomas Baldino, a political science professor at Wilkes University.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., a Scranton native, will campaign in the city with colleague Holden this weekend.
Holden's campaign condemned the influence of Super PACs, political organizations that cannot make contributions to candidates, campaigns or parties and must spend contributions independently. Super PACs, which are allowed under a 2010 Supreme Court Decision, give corporations, unions and other organizations the ability to spend unlimited money in an effort to sway the outcome of elections.
"Tim Holden is firmly opposed to Super PACs and believes that voters are supposed to decide elections, not corporations from outside the 17th District," campaign manager Eric Nagy said.
The Campaign for Primary Accountability's television commercial airing in the Scranton and Wilkes Barre area denounces Holden for receiving campaign donations from '"Wall Street" and voting in 2000 to let corporations exclude foreign income from their gross income for tax purposes. It criticizes his past votes to increase congressional salaries and his vote in 2010 to extend former President George W. Bush's tax cuts.
Founded last year by conservative construction mogul Leo Linbeck III, officials running the Super PAC say congressional elections are rigged by strategically drawn boundaries that favor one party.
Holden's newly shaped district did become more Democratic, though it was drawn by a Republican majority in the state legislature. Laureen Cummings of Lackawanna County is the lone Republican running.
With one party disadvantaged by the district lines, opponents from the other party still have little chance of defeating incumbents in primary elections because of disparities in campaign finances, Ellis said. The Campaign for Primary Accountability, which had $1.6 million on hand at the end 2011, is meant to be an equalizer.
"We're not concerned with Democrats versus Republicans," Ellis said. "We're concerned about the Washington insiders versus the people."
Nagy dismissed the notion that Holden is a Washington insider, saying he returns to Schuylkill County on the weekends. Holden is from St. Clair, a small town near Pottsville, and was county sheriff before joining Congress.
The Campaign for Primary Accountability has already targeted two incumbents who were unseated in their primaries — Republicans Don Manzullo of Illinois and Jean Schmidt of Ohio. In Pennsylvania, the PAC is also campaigning against U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-18th District.
Blue America, on the other hand, is spending money to campaign against only two incumbents — Holden and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., treasurer Howie Klein said. The House recently passed a Ryan budget that would restructure the tax code and cut domestic programs.
The PAC reported $19,000 on hand in its latest Federal Election Commission report and had spent $12,000 in the first quarter of 2012. Its billboard, which says "Fracking's Got a Friend in Pennsylvania," refers to Holden's vote to remove some regulations on natural gas drilling. It's just one issue in which the PAC disagrees with Holden, who has also been criticized by liberals for voting against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Holden says he did so because the law costs too much.
Holden has defended his voting record, saying conservative votes were a reflection of his former district, which had a Republican majority. Holden has long been a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a fiscally conservative group of House Democrats. He is anti-abortion and opposes gun control.
Though Cartwright has never held public office, he's campaigning as a member of the "Democratic wing of the Democratic party."
"If it were up to me, I would be having a diatribe on the billboard," said Klein, who regularly writes about Holden on his blog DownWithTyranny. "There are no other races in the country that are pitting a particularly bad Blue Dog against a real progressive."
Cartwright's campaign has distanced itself from the PACs.
"We see it more as a referendum against Tim Holden and not necessarily a campaign in support of Matt," campaign manager Shane Seaver said.