It's no surprise that Berks County physician Manan Trivedi wants to run again for Congress after losing two years ago to five-term Republican Jim Gerlach.
But Pennsylvania's Republican-controlled Legislature had a little surprise for Trivedi — when lawmakers drew new maps for the state's congressional seats, Trivedi's house was cut out of Gerlach's district.
"By a mile," Trivedi said in an interview. "We still get our pizza delivered from the district. My post office is in the district."
Trivedi is running anyway for the 6th District west of Philadelphia, and the race is one a few dozen on the radar of national observers watching this year's battles for the control of Congress.
When Gerlach first ran for Congress 10 years ago, the bizarrely drawn district was often called "pterodactyl-shaped," and was said to have been crafted for Gerlach, then a state senator seeking to move up.
He's won the seat five times since, the last time with a fairly convincing win of 57 to 43 percent over Trivedi.
Much of the redrawn 6th District is new (see map above), and Trivedi blames Gerlach for cutting his Birdsboro home out of the district.
"I think Jim Gerlach talked to his Harrisburg cronies and realized that I was a serious threat, and so he drew us out," Trivedi said.
Trivedi acknowledged he has no specific information about any influence exercised by Gerlach, quipping that he wasn't invited into the room when the map was drawn.
Gerlach said he had nothing to do with it.
"I did not talk to anybody to say, `Do this, do that.'" Gerlach said. "That was up to the legislators. And I can remember when I was in the Legislature it was frowned upon to have members of the congressional delegation trying to tell state legislators what to do."
District is new, shape is still odd
The new district is also oddly shaped, including parts of Montgomery, Chester, Berks and Lebanon counties. It surrounds but excludes the city of Reading, a Democratic stronghold.
The new district has a slight edge in Republican registration, both campaigns say, but it voted for Barack Obama in 2008.
Gerlach has attacked Trivedi for being disconnected from the district.
"The reality is, he lives a lot of time down in Washington in a home that he has there," Gerlach said. "In fact, at the time he was circulating his nominating petitions this spring, he was being announced as the new attending physician at a hospital in Washington. And you look at his financial disclosure forms, all of his income this year has been through his employment down there."
It's true Trivedi and his wife own a home in the Washington area. He said they bought it when he worked for the surgeon general, and his wife still does some work in Washington.
Trivedi said they haven't sold it because the housing market is poor, but that he and his family live in Birdsboro, Berks County.
"You can come to my house and we'll have a barbecue," Trivedi said. "You can ask my 2-year-old. She's pretty advanced for her age, she'll tell you where she lives. She'll tell you the whole address."
It's also true Trivedi's financial disclosure form shows only income from the Medstar Washington Hospital Center this year -- $39,000 in the first four and a half months of 2012.
Trivedi said he was mostly working on his campaign, then.
"I work part time at Pottstown Memorial Medical Center in the district. (Gerlach's) welcome to join me and work, and maybe learn a few things about health care anytime he wants," Trivedi said. "You know, there's only one guy who's working in the district, and that's me. Gerlach's been in D.C. for most of his career."
The Pottstown Medical Center confirms Trivedi's affiliation, and he's on the hospital's website.
National policy echoes resonate
Apart from the personal disputes, the campaign is being contested along familiar fault lines of national policy –- including Medicare. Trivedi said Gerlach has consistently supported the plans of congressman and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan.
"If you look at the Gerlach-Ryan plan, it turns Medicare into a voucher system and basically gives seniors a little amount of money and tells them, for the rest, you're on your own," Trivedi said.
Gerlach begged to differ.
"Well, he's absolutely wrong about that, and that's the typical talking points coming out of the Democratic campaign committee," Gerlach said. "So he just puts those talking points in his own press release."
It's true Gerlach has voted for Ryan budgets, and that the Ryan plan gives future generations of seniors "premium support" – Republicans don't like the term vouchers – to buy private insurance. But it's also true that the most recent version of the Ryan plan is more flexible, preserving the traditional Medicare system as an option for seniors.
"The senior has an array of plans to choose from, and can choose the traditional option which exists today," Gerlach said.
So far national Democrats haven't poured money into the race, suggesting that Gerlach is seen as a favorite for re-election. Trivedi has four weeks and five days to turn that around.
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