Taking Back the House: Stick a Fork In Him, He's Weldon

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DISTRICT: PENNSYLVANIA's 7TH (suburban Philadelphia)

INCUMBENT: Rep. Curt Weldon (R, ten terms)

CHALLENGER: Retired Vice Adm. Joe Sestak (D)

TOP ISSUE: The Iraq War

A retired three-star admiral, Sestak can be summed up in two words: dream candidate. The highest-ranking military officer ever to run for the House, Sestak served as director of defense policy under Clinton, commanded a 15,000-man battle-carrier group in both Afghanistan and Iraq, holds a doctorate in government from Harvard and retired from the service in 2004 to care for his daughter, who was stricken by a brain tumor. A charismatic speaker, Sestak has also been out-fund-raising Weldon — rare feat for a political novice running against an entrenched incumbent.

Weldon, by contrast, acts more like a frustrated secret agent than the powerful vice chair of the House Armed Services Committee. He keeps a model"suitcase nuke" in his office and has claimed — citing his own"impeccable clandestine source" — that Iranians were plotting to fly a plane into a nuclear reactor near Boston. In his latest move, Weldon proposed a novel — and unconstitutional — approach to Iraq: removing Bush and Rumsfeld from the chain of military command and giving the generals in the field authority to bring the troops home when they see fit.

"Curt Weldon still believes Iraq was the right decision and — despite all studies saying otherwise — still believes that there are WMDs there," says Sestak, who calls the war a"tragic misadventure" and demands a"date certain" for withdrawing U.S. troops."We must redeploy in order to refocus our attention on the global security to enhance America's security."

Sestak is running in a district that is ripe for a Democratic takeover: The 7th is one of three suburban Philadelphia districts — all currently represented by the GOP — that threw their support to John Kerry in 2004. In the neighboring 6th District, Democratic challenger Lois Murphy is expected to oust GOP incumbent Jim Gerlach, and in the 8th, Iraq vet Patrick Murphy is giving incumbent Mike Fitzpatrick fits.

And it doesn't hurt that Weldon has, in recent days, been tarred by scandal, as the congressman is now the target of an FBI corruption probe involving Weldon's lobbyist daughter and the shady Russian clients who extracted favors from her powerful dad.

It's little mystery that Congressional Quarterly has just shifted this race into the "Leans Democratic" column.

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