Goodling Sets His Sights on One More Term in the House

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Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., has a clear plan of action: He wants to serve as chairman of the House education committee for two more years. And, after that, he says he will retire.

But on May 19, the veteran congressman faces what might be the biggest obstacle to reaching his goals: the primary race for his party's endorsement for the November election.

The former teacher and superintendent is facing an aggressive primary challenge from conservative activist Charles R. Gerow, who failed in his 1996 try to wrest the gop nomination from the incumbent. In the solidly Republican district representing south-central Pennsylvania's 19th congressional district, whoever wins will be the favorite to retain the seat in the fall.

As the chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee, Rep. Goodling sets the tone for much of the GOP's education agenda. If he were to lose, it is unclear who would take the leadership of the panel. Moderate Republicans Tom Petri of Wisconsin and Marge Roukema of New Jersey hold seniority, but they could face a challenge from one of the panel's conservative members if they were to seek the job. If the Democrats regain control of the House, Rep. William L. Clay of Missouri is in line to become chairman.

Mr. Goodling said last week that his polls show him ahead of Mr. Gerow, although he would not release the specific numbers. But he added that he is taking nothing for granted, especially since term-limits backers started airing $250,000 in radio and television ads in recent weeks opposing the 24-year congressional veteran.

The campaign will hinge on voter turnout, Mr. Goodling and independent analysts say. In 1996, Mr. Gerow drew within 10 points of the incumbent when only 25 percent of the registered Republicans in the district voted. Many of those voters represented the challenger's conservative base.

"My hope is that [the advertising is] going to backfire, and it will bring people to the polls," Mr. Goodling said in an interview here last week. "I'm confident [of victory] if I can get 35 [percent] or 40 percent of the vote out."

Mr. Gerow could not be reached for comment last week.

Legacy of Success

The 70-year-old committee chairman is not accustomed to such intense re-election campaigns. Since he was first elected in 1974 to succeed his father, he has rarely faced significant opposition in either the Republican primary or the general election.

"It's been a strongly Republican district and a Goodling district," said Joan Hulse Thompson, an associate professor of political science at Beaver College in Glenside, Pa., near Philadelphia.

In 1992, Rep. Goodling survived another tough challenge when a onetime aide to former GOP Rep. Jack Kemp waged an independent campaign highlighting the incumbent's overdrafts in the now-defunct House bank. Mr. Goodling prevailed with 45 percent of the vote, while the independent drew 20 percent, mostly from Republicans.1

Two years ago, Mr. Gerow surprised many observers by collecting 45 percent of the Republican vote in the primary. Rep. Goodling went on to win the general election with 63 percent of the vote. ("Union Leaders Foresee Softening of GOP Stands," Nov. 13, 1996.)

In some ways, the incumbent's success is now a liability. A scarcity of past challenges has left Mr. Goodling lacking many of the ingredients of a typical campaign, including the war chest needed to counter the advertising blitz mounted against him and the volunteers needed to get out the vote.

Turning out supporters will be complicated this year because neither of the Pennsylvania GOP's standard-bearers--Sen. Arlen Specter and Gov. Tom Ridge--faces difficult competition that would draw voters to the polls, according to G. Terry Madonna, a professor of political science at Millersville University of Pennsylvania.

"Who knows if he can stimulate voters with his message," Mr. Madonna said last week. "Goodling should win, but it wouldn't surprise me if he didn't."

His Last Campaign

Even though campaign polls show the incumbent in the lead, Mr. Madonna said no independent source has verified those numbers.

Whatever next week's outcome, Mr. Goodling says this campaign will be his last. Rules adopted by Republicans in 1995 prohibit him from staying on as chairman of the education committee for longer than three terms. He took up the panel's gavel in 1995 after the GOP won the House majority. The Republicans would have to retain control for Mr. Goodling to remain chairman in 1999.

Throughout his career, the veteran public school educator has taken a moderate stance on most school issues, supporting President Clinton's Goals 2000: Educate America Act in 1994 and the federal school meals program for many years.

In recent years, however, analysts say he has taken steps to appease the conservative base of his party. Last year, Mr. Goodling successfully led the charge to stall the president's proposed national testing program, winning praise from many of Washington's prominent conservative activists. In 1995, he designed a state block grant to replace the school lunch program. The measure passed the House, but it set off a political furor and died in the Senate.

Vol. 17, Issue 35, Page 23

Published in Print: May 13, 1998, as Goodling Sets His Sights on One More Term in the House
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Web Resources
  • Read Rep. Bill Goodling's biography from his House of Representatives' Web site.
  • You can find Rep. Goodling's--and any other representative's--voting record over the past 18 months from Congressional Quarterly's VoteWatch.
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