Once-doomed, Democratic Rep. Margolies-Mezvinsky pulls even in Pa. race

PHILADELPHIA — PHILADELPHIA -- So, Rep. Marjorie Margolies-Mezvinsky is a political dead duck, right?

She voted to raise her constituents' taxes after saying that she wouldn't, she's a Democrat running in a Republican district, and the national mood at the moment is anti-incumbent and pro-Republican.


Well, a funny thing has happened on the way to her defeat.

Despite President Clinton's low approval ratings, the now-infamous budget vote and the narrowness of her victory two years ago when national trends were breaking her way, the congresswoman has made it a competitive race.


That is the assessment of Republican and Democratic activists and analysts in Montgomery County.

A year ago, many believed that her short political career was over when she cast the deciding vote on Mr. Clinton's budget bill after saying repeatedly that she wouldn't vote for it.

Now, just as many believe that she has a chance of winning for three reasons: Message, money, and her opponent, Republican Jon Fox.

First, the message.

"What are we talking about here?" Ms. Margolies-Mezvinsky said before a parade in North Wales recently. "We are talking about Jon Fox and me. What are the differences?"

She then ticks off two key areas: a ban on assault weapons and women's issues.

She supports a gun ban and says that Mr. Fox won't say which weapons he supports banning.

She also says that she is a strong advocate for women's issues while he has made jokes about mud-wrestling his female opponent in the GOP primary.


Mr. Fox, too, has a message, contending that Ms. Margolies-Mezvinsky lied when she voted for Mr. Clinton's budget after saying that she wouldn't.

Mr. Fox, a Montgomery County commissioner, says he would never do that.

Mr. Fox is also trying to sway Republican women.

Susan Tepper, a Republican, was to announce yesterday that she and the daughter-in-law of Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., are co-chairing Mr. Fox's campaign in two Montgomery County communities that are Ms. Margolies-Mezvinsky's base.

Of course, a message is nothing without money.

Ms. Margolies-Mezvinsky has a lot. Mr. Fox doesn't.


As of Sept. 30, she had $565,000 in her campaign fund, according to her staff. Mr. Fox would not release his latest reports, but he had about $19,000 at the end of June.

"Money-wise, I think he has problems," said a prominent county Republican. "People aren't giving him money, which isn't a good sign."

Finally, there's Mr. Fox himself.

He's run for several offices in the last four years, has just come out of a fractious Republican primary and has not run a very good campaign, analysts say.

Because neither candidate is very popular in the district, most analysts believe that voters will try to decide who is the lesser of two evils.