Melissa Hart intends to run against Altmire

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Former Congresswoman Melissa Hart says she is planning a comeback bid to regain the seat she lost a year ago to Democrat Jason Altmire.

"Obviously, I still have a commitment to public service, despite the elections of last year," Ms. Hart said last night. "I've watched the Congress in action over the last six months and they haven't gotten a thing done and the issues that need to be addressed haven't been addressed."

Ms. Hart has not yet officially announced but has informed the National Republican Congressional Committee as well as the lone announced rival for the GOP nomination, Ron Francis, about her plans.

On Monday she telephoned former Republican gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann and informed him of her plans. Mr. Swann was being courted by national Republican leaders to challenge Mr. Altmire but notified NRCC officials later this week that he had decided against making the bid.

Ms. Hart's political career began in 1990 with a surprise upset in a contest for the Pennsylvania Senate seat in the 40th District against incumbent Democrat John Regoli. That win came in a year when the head of the ticket, then-Auditor General Barbara Hafer, was swamped at the polls by incumbent Democratic Gov. Robert P. Casey Sr.

She quickly rose through the ranks in the state Senate before seeking the seat in the 4th Congressional District that was being vacated by Democrat Ron Klink. After her election, House Republican leaders moved her into a key assignment on the Ways and Means Committee.

She went down to defeat last year in an election when Republican incumbents nationwide were being tossed out by voters angry over the course of the Iraq War and disillusioned with the Bush administration.

"It's a difficult district for a Republican," Ms. Hart said last night. She made things more difficult for herself two years prior to the election when she lobbied to have Republican-rich sections of the old 4th District redrawn into a new district to accommodate congressional newcomer Timothy Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair.

Mr. Francis, a former Allegheny County Council member and partner in the Downtown law firm of Reed Smith, said last night that he had exchanged voice mails with Ms. Hart this week in which she told him she was seeking the nomination.

"Melissa did tell me she is running," Mr. Francis said last night. "Her decision does not change my plans. My fund raising has been going well and I have been gaining support. I like and respect Melissa Hart, but I believe I am the best candidate at this time to win back the seat."

Ms. Hart plans an announcement in the near future but gave no firm date. She acknowledged that winning back the post lost to Mr. Altmire will be a challenge.

"It's not going to be easy. There's no question about that," she said.


Dennis B. Roddy can be reached at droddy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1965.


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