Epic Battles No. 8: Carney v. Sherwood was on national radar
In 2006, it was among the most-watched political races in the nation.
President George W. Bush's approval ratings were way down, people were concerned about the economy and weary after five years of war. Republicans were foundering - and Democrats smelled blood.
In the fall of 2010, Democrats stood poised to take back the House of Representatives, and the final outcome exceeded even their fondest expectations. Their net gain of 33 seats was more than enough to put Nancy Pelosi in the speaker's chair.
One of those Democratic pickups was in Pennsylvania's 10th Congressional District, which had been represented by Republican Donald Sherwood, four-term incumbent. Northumberland County was in the district, as it had been since 2002, along with all or parts of 12 other counties in the northcentral part of the state.
The 10th District had been reliably Republican since the early 1960s; Sherwood's immediate predecessors were future Gov. William W. Scranton in 1961-62 and Joseph McDade from 1963 to 1999.
Chris Carney, who most people hadn't even heard of a year before, defeated Sherwood in what would once have been considered a major upset. But by election day 2010, it would have been more astounding if Carney hadn't won.
With his most recent re-election in 2004, Sherwood appeared unbeatable for the foreseeable future. Sherwood, an affable and hard-working legislator with a strong business background, seemed a perfect fit for his conservative district.
But all that changed in 2005 when folks in his district, and the nation at large, learned that the congressman had a long-term extramarital affair and, worse, the woman claimed that she suffered physical abuse at his hands. Sherwood admitted to the affair, said he made a mistake but denied any abuse ever occurred.
Throughout 2006, Sherwood tried to campaign on the issues, but he was perpetually dogged with questions about his personal life. In 2002 and 2004, he was elected without opposition, but this time, he had a challenge in the GOP primary. Sherwood was renominated, but only by a 56-44 margin, over a teacher who had little resources and practically no name recognition. The writing was on the wall.
Naturally, Carney capitalized on Sherwood's problems, telling voters in a televised ad that Sherwood did not represent the values of the congressional district.
Among the highlights of the campaign was an intense debate between Carney and Sherwood that was held in Lewisburg. Lest anyone minimize the importance of the race, Bush himself campaigned for Sherwood in LaPlume. Vice President Dick Cheney also attended a Sherwood fundraiser in the district.
As the campaign went on, conservative voters came to accept Carney, a U.S. Naval Reserve officer, as a worthy alternative, no doubt because of his record on national defense issues. As the election neared, no one could ignore Carney's consistent and substantial lead in the polls. On election night, Carney won by six percentage points. He carried Northumberland County by 13 points.
Carney was re-elected in 2008, but lost to U.S. Attorney Tom Marino in 2010. Marino is still the 10th District congressman.
Following the 2010 Census, the Shamokin-Mount Carmel area was moved to the 11th Congressional District, which is now represented by Lou Barletta.