By Russell Berman – For Reps. Mark Critz and Charles Djou, the Washington axiom of a “permanent campaign” has never been more apt.
The capital’s newest congressmen have been in office less than a month, but the looming November election has forced them to begin their legislative careers in full campaign mode.
Critz, a Democrat, won a competitive special election in Pennsylvania on May 18, while Djou, a Republican, took his Hawaii seat a week later after winning a three-way special election on May 22.
Both are facing the same opponents in November they did in May, and political pressures back home are forcing Critz and Djou to put immediate distance between themselves and the national parties that helped elect them. Operatives for their opponents have pledged to scour the limited voting records both lawmakers will compile between now and November, seeking to exploit a paper trail that didn’t exist in their initial campaigns.
In one of their first votes in Congress, on a measure to repeal the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays in the military, the two went in opposite directions. Critz voted against repeal, bucking the Democratic Party leadership, while Djou joined just four other Republicans in supporting the measure.
The crossover could become something of a pattern for the next five months.
“It’s possible Djou will have a more liberal voting record than Critz for the duration of this Congress on major issues,” said David Wasserman, House editor for The Cook Political Report.
Critz, a former aide to the late congressman he replaced, Rep. John Murtha (D), won his special-election race against Republican businessman Tim Burns by a surprisingly strong margin of 8.5 points. National Republicans aggressively targeted the culturally conservative Western Pennsylvania district, which supported Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for president in 2008.
Djou won his Hawaii seat under more complicated circumstances. The childhood home of President Barack Obama, the 1st district had been held for nearly two decades by Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D), who resigned to run for governor. Two Democrats — state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and former Rep. Ed Case — faced Djou and split the vote in the winner-take-all race, with Djou winning with just 39 percent of the total.
He will run against Hanabusa in the fall after Case dropped out, leaving Democrats confident they can take back the seat with a unified party. The May vote was evidence “that residents in the district would prefer to be represented by a Democrat,” said Andy Stone, a spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
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