Judging from history alone, it's hard to imagine that Green Party candidate Titus North will pose a threat to his opponent, Democrat Mike Doyle. Doyle has been representing the 14th Congressional District -- which includes Pittsburgh and more than 50 other Allegheny County municipalities -- for 14 years. And when the two men matched up in 2006, North took just 10 percent of the vote.
Thus far, there's little reason on paper to think things will be different this time around. North says he's raised just less than $1,000. Doyle, according to campaign finance records, has raised more than $680,000.
"There is absolutely no chance of me winning based on money," North concedes.
But voters are more worried about their own finances than those of the candidates. And North says the nation's current economic crisis means Doyle will have a harder time being re-elected this time around. That, he says, is because Doyle, of Forest Hills, voted for the controversial $700 billion bailout package this month, which has been decried by voters in western Pennsylvania and everywhere else. North, on the other hand, denounced Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's plan to revive the country's ailing economy as a bailout for giant financial corporations.
"Doyle did what the Congressional Democrats wanted him to do without regard for the 100-percent negative reaction from his constituents," says North, 46, sitting in the dining room of his Squirrel Hill home. As a result, "For the first time ... there is a chance of me winning that doesn't involve lightning."
North doesn't deny that Congress had to do something to avoid an economic catastrophe, but "the definition of 'something' is not limited to what Henry Paulson asked for," he argues, holding a copy of the bailout package in his hands. "There's more in the universe of 'something' than this."
North has followed the world economy for the last 20 years as a financial analyst and news translator for Reuters. (He also teaches political science at the University of Pittsburgh.) He says his alternative to the bailout would have required audits of all banks and insurance companies, whose fiscal recklessness many blame for the economic crisis.
Doyle acknowledges that his office received roughly 300 phone calls at the outset of the economic meltdown -- and that all of those were opposed to a bailout. But by the time people started realizing that a market collapse would affect everyone's wallet, Doyle says his constituents started to see the merit in backing some kind of rescue plan.
"Doing nothing would have resulted in the economy collapsing," he says. "This was the right vote."
Doyle says North's calls for audits is a worthy idea, but not something that could be done overnight. "When the tsunami's about to hit you, you don't have the time to do some of those things," he says. Although Congress would have welcomed the luxury of choosing from a long list of rescue plans, Doyle says, "We didn't have a choice. We had one [plan]. ... Titus North's plan wasn't on the floor."
Even if it was, Doyle doubts that it would have provided any insight that wasn't offered from the dozens of nationally renowned economy experts involved in discussions. "Titus is a voice, he has an opinion," says Doyle. "But I don't think that he has Warren Buffett's knowledge of what's going on." (Buffett, the billionaire who heads investment firm Berkshire Hathaway, was an outspoken supporter of the bailout.)
Some Congressional representatives facing tight election races voted against the bailout: The conventional wisdom is that they worried voting in favor of it would enrage voters and risk their re-election chances. North says, "Doyle certainly felt safe [voting for the bailout] because he thinks he doesn't have to worry about [his re-election] race. ... I don't think he feels me breathing down his neck.
"I know [my chances] aren't huge," he adds.
- Titus North