I was lucky enough to snag some interview time last night with Jason Altmire, candidate for Melissa Hart's congressional seat.
He was nothing if not quietly solidly optimistic about the race.
Those Poll numbers.
Recently, the Altmire campaign released some poll numbers that showed it to be within striking distance of Missy Hart - a point that the Hart campaign vigorously and quickly denied, of course.
Here's the story from Altmire: Back in June they took a poll that showed them down 53/39 percent. But as the summer progressed he began to feel that, based on what he'd heard on the campaign trail, things were changing. A few weeks ago word got back to him that the Hart campaign had done a poll (still curiously unreleased by the Hart camp) that showed the two candidates within the margin of error.
Altmire then turned to his pollster and asked for a poll to be done - to see if indeed the numbers were that close.
And, according to the pollster, they were.
Though with only a 21% name recognition, it has to be assumed that a large chunk of his support is anti-Hart rather than pro-Altmire.
To Altmire, it's all a matter of getting the voters comfortable with him. He sites the June poll numbers. In June the pollsters asked whether the person being polled would vote for Melissa Hart "or someone else." The results, with Altmire at a 16% name recognition at the time, were a close 50/45 in favor of Hart.
Seems to be lotsa folks in that district that aren't big fans of Missy - go figure.
Out campaigning, he said he's met by people who say, "If you're running against Melissa Hart, you've got my vote." He's confident that once the voters get to know him better and see the differences between his campaign and Hart's more clearly, the numbers will look even better.
The differences between the two
To Altmire, Melissa Hart is just another part of Bush's "rubber stamp" Congress - she votes 93% of the time with Bush, supports Bush's war, etc while still trying to present herself as an "independent voice in Washington."
One big difference can be found in the candidates' attitude toward Social Security. Melissa Hart brought Vice President Cheney to town a while back to drum up support for the President's plan to privatize it. Altmire opposes privitization. He said it would be a "disaster" to move Social Security to Wall Street. He added that it's "exactly the wrong thing to do."
The system's worked for 71 years and it's problems are certainly correctable without the president's plan. One of Altmire's solutions is to raise the $92,000 cap on personal (but not business) payroll taxes. So for those making less than $92K, the change is meaningless while still increasing the revenue for Social Security.
On prescription drugs, the candidates differ as well. The cost is "spiralling out of control" said Altmire. Hart voted against allowing the reimportation of drugs from Canada. He called the recent prescription drub plan "ludicrous." Group discounts were banned, leading to higher profits for Pharmaceutical companies. Allowing for those discounts (as Altmire supports) would have saved tax payers billions of dollars - billions of dollars.
Altmire said that Carl Cameron of Fox News sat with both campaigns yesterday (the piece should be broadcast today) and so the race is certainly getting national exposure. DNC chair Howard Dean was in the area a few weeks ago. And while admitting some differences with the party Nationally on some issues he said he's confident that he's instep with the voters of his district - far more than Melissa Hart as there are 55,000 more democrats than republicans there.
He had a rhetorical question for the voters: Why would you stay with an administration that has been so wrong on so many things?
Given Hart's "stay the course" loyalty to the Bush administration, well you can finish the sentence, yourselves.
"I know we can win this race," he said, "It's for real."
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