Democrats Ducking Town Halls

Numerous vulnerable House Democrats are refusing to schedule town hall meetings in their districts over the summer recess.

A survey conducted by the National Republican Congressional Committee shows that of 75 Democratic House members who are targeted for defeat by the GOP, 65 have not yet scheduled a town hall meeting with their constituents.

The figure is astounding, to say the least. The “Gang of 65” includes freshmen who rode in on the national Democratic tide in ’08, among them Pennsylvania Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (who faces a stiff challenge from car dealer and conservative GOPer Mike Kelly) and Ohio Rep. Mary Jo Kilroy, who won a much-disputed “squeaker” against Republican state legislator Steve Stivers and now faces him in a rematch.

In addition, many Democratic “sophomores” who came in on a nationwide wave of anger against the Bush Administration and the Republican-run House in ’06 and then won on Barack Obama’s coat-tails in ’08 are also AWOL when it comes to scheduling meetings for constituents. These include two-termers Jason Altmire and Chris Carney of Pennsylvania, both of whom face stiff re-election challenges in 2010.

Even surprise winners of special elections in historically Republican districts, but who are under strong fire this year, are among the 65 who do not have town meetings on their calendars. Democratic Rep. Bill Foster won the Illinois seat of former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert in a dramatic upset in ’08 and Scott Murphy won the upstate New York district of fellow Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand when she was named to the Senate last year. Murphy won in the 20th District by just over 500 votes.

As to why Foster, Murphy, and the others are ducking town hall meetings, it could be any number of reasons. Earlier this year, veteran Rep. John Dingell (D.-Mich) had a town hall meeting over healthcare in his Dearborn-area district turn into a near riot, as constituents angrily charged that the lawmaker had not read the healthcare bill that was before Congress.

In Illinois’ 8th District, Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean had gone weeks during the healthcare debate without a town hall meeting on the issue. Republican opponent Joe Walsh hit this hard and began holding meetings of his own on alternatives to the proposals before Congress. In so doing, Walsh drew standing-room-only crowds and swatches of publicity.

Dingell and Bean apparently got the message. Neither are part of the “Gang of 65.” As to why there are so many who haven’t gotten the message and scheduled meetings, that’s something they will have to explain themselves—especially since House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on ABC’s “This Week:” “We are very proud of the agenda that we have put for to the American people.”

So why not talk about it with constituents?


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