Rude question: Is Margolies too old to go to Congress?
In a business where awkward conversations are part of the job, this was one of the more awkward. I called Marjorie Margolies to ask if she's too old to run for Congress.
To be more precise, the question isn't whether she's too old to go to Congress. It's whether she's too old to start, or restart, a congressional career.
The rude question was inspired by something I heard recently from a local Democrat who isn't committed to any of the candidates running for the House seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz.
The Democrat told me it was depressing to see Margolies, who held the seat 20 years ago, getting a head of steam in her quest to win it back. Here's his argument:
An open Democratic congressional seat is a precious thing for the party, and it should go to a smart, principled and savvy person who can spend decades in Congress, really making something of the opportunity. At 70, Margolies is much older than the other three candidates planning to run for the party primary next year. While she has plenty of brains and energy, she isn't going to be there for the long haul.
He has a point. Power in Congress comes in considerable measure from seniority and relationships that take time to build.
Seems to me that all four Democrats in the race—Margolies, State Sen. Daylin Leach, State Rep. Brendan Boyle and physician Valerie Arkoosh—have the intelligence, experience and policy chops to be considered by Democrats in the district. Maybe, all things being equal, the party would be smart to pick someone likely to make a career of it.
The other side
Margolies answered my rude question with grace and charm. She pointed out that she won't go to Congress as a freshman. She gets credit for time served in the '90s, so she'll jump ahead of the freshman class when it comes to committee assignments.
Maybe more important is the subject of political relationships. "I've maintained those relationships," Margolies told me, noting she called House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer about her candidacy and that he's already endorsed her and contributed to her campaign. It's fair to say that's not a call many aspiring congressional candidates can make.
And while Margolies didn't mention it, she has an enduring bond with the Clinton family. Her son is married to Chelsea, the daughter of Bill and Hillary Clinton. If she were in the House and Hillary were president, it's hard to see how that would hurt her constituents.
She also noted that Washington really needs more women, in part because they'll be more capable than men of bridging the partisan divide.
Voters will have their say next spring, though I can't see anyone raising Margolies' age as an issue in a Democratic primary. If it matters at all, it will be to insiders who consider contributions and support.
One operative told me it could work to Margolies' advantage in some cases. Some politicians, say Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro for example, might just as soon have the seat occupied by someone who isn't going to hold it for decades, in case he gets the itch in a few years.
Margolies can probably best answer the question to voters by campaigning with youthful vigor, something she seems pretty capable of doing.