Is Congressman Charlie Dent a GOP dinosaur — or his party's future?

Rep. Charlie Dent (R., Pa.), a key moderate in the health care bill debate, explains why he would be voting "no" on the Obamacare replacement on March 23 on Capitol Hill.

Speaking at a Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon Monday, Charlie Dent drew a laugh when he said Congress has two speeds, “slow and glacial.” 

He got chuckles noting many fellow House members seem to forget there’s a Senate and “like to pretend” Congress is unicameral.

And he drew nods of agreement when he said for Congress to pass “anything meaningful” requires bipartisan support.

If you haven’t seen or heard Dent lately, you weren’t paying attention to last week’s drama twixt White House and Congress over Obamacare.

Dent, a six-term GOP Lehigh Valley congressman, was all over cable and network TV, prominently mentioned in press coverage, including for being accused by President Trump of “destroying the Republican Party.”

Dent was a high-profile “no” vote to repeal Obamacare.

No surprise really.

Dent’s a centrist, a cochairman of the Tuesday Group, about 50 moderate Republicans (not to be confused with Tuesdays With Toomey, the grassroots crowd with, um, intense interest in chatting with the senator).

Dent also belongs to the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus, an offshoot of No Labels, a national nonpartisan effort stressing common sense over rigid ideology.

So watching Dent make news, knowing his background and listening to his luncheon speech, got me wondering: Is he a dinosaur in his party, or is he its future?

When asked about his future, Dent smiled and said, “I have no plans on running for higher office [pause, smile] at this time.”

So I ask around. Past or future? Reviews are mixed.

Muhlenberg College poli-sci professor and pollster Chris Borick calls Dent “more of a throwback than a model for future Republicans. The way our districts are structured [through gerrymandering], and in-party politics pushes candidates to ideological extremes.”

Borick adds: “So I don’t know if we’re going to see an increase of those [Dent] types of individuals. I’m skeptical. There’s a reason why they’re disappearing.”

Ironically, Borick notes Dent is “in line with average Pennsylvanians on many issues, including health care.” He cites a Muhlenberg poll released this month showing Pennsylvanians oppose repealing Obamacare, 49-37.

GOP consultant Mike DeVanney says Dent’s future is “a million-dollar question and remains to be seen.”

DeVanney’s a partner in Pittsburgh-based Cold Spark Media, a firm with mostly conservative clients, including Toomey, state House Speaker Mike Turzai, and U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, a member of the Freedom Caucus from central Pennsylvania.

“Dent’s a serious member of Congress who’s trying to find solutions,” says DeVanney, “and the party has to show how we govern. … People want to see government function.”

For Dent, says DeVanney, “a lot depends on what happens to bipartisanship in Congress.”

Former state GOP Chairman Alan Novak now runs a Harrisburg-based government affairs firm, Novak Strategic Advisors.

His take on Dent: “I don’t think he’s a dinosaur. If we find a way to bring compromise back into government, he’s the future. … We need people like Charlie. He maintains relationships across party lines, and that’s a good thing.”

Centrist Republicans used to be the rule in Pennsylvania: late Sens. John Heinz and Arlen Specter; Govs. Dick Thornburgh and Tom Ridge. And Borick, DeVanney, and Novak agree Dent would be a strong statewide candidate.

But things change. Trump romped in the state’s 2016 primary then became the first GOP presidential candidate in more than a quarter century to carry Pennsylvania in a general election.

So perhaps the larger question is: Where’s the state going?

Borick says, “We’re not a blue state, not a red state; we’re a purple, competitive state.”

DeVanney says, “Purple, but with opportunity [to be red].”

And Novak says, “Not blue; staying purple.”

We won’t have to wait long for a short-term answer. The state’s top Democrats, Gov. Wolf and Sen. Bob Casey, face reelection next year. Results should pretty much show where the state stands – whether Charlie Dent’s involved or not.

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