Democrats have targeted Republican U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach for so long it seems his first name ought to be "Vulnerable."

But Gerlach convincingly won a fourth term in the suburban Sixth District last month, despite a horrible climate for the GOP, and he is thinking that he has the right stuff to run for governor in 2010.

"I have been approached by Republicans throughout Pennsylvania about running for governor in 2010," Gerlach said in a statement issued Wednesday night. "I believe the statewide appeal may be there, which is why I'm considering this very carefully," Gerlach said, citing his birth in western Lawrence County, his education at Dickinson College in Carlisle, and his political career in the southeast.

Gerlach declined an interview request yesterday, and aides said they would have no further comment on the gubernatorial exploration, first reported by the Harrisburg online news service Capitolwire.

If he enters the Republican primary, Gerlach would join another likely candidate from the southeast, former U.S. Attorney Patrick Meehan, who managed successful statewide campaigns for Sen. Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) and former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum before his prosecutorial career.

In the geographic calculus of Pennsylvania, that could aid the third potential Republican candidate, Attorney General Tom Corbett, who is from the Pittsburgh area. A crowded primary also could draw former U.S. Rep. Pat Toomey of the Lehigh Valley, president of the national antitax group Club for Growth, who has a strong base in the GOP's conservative wing.

"Jim would be a great candidate for governor - he has the credentials," said Joseph "Skip" Brion, the Chester County Republican chairman. "And he's shown that he's electable in one of the toughest districts."

Cut from swatches of four counties, the Sixth District runs from Lower Merion in Montgomery County through the upper half of Chester County and into Berks County, where it picks up about half of Reading, and then zigzags on to Kutztown. The district includes one precinct in Lehigh County.

Registered Democrats make up about 45 percent of the voters, and 40 percent are Republicans.

In 2002, Gerlach won the freshly drawn district with 51.4 percent of the vote.

In 2004 he was reelected with 51 percent of the vote, and in 2006 he won with 50.7 percent - both times against Lower Merion lawyer Lois Murphy. The 2006 campaign was labeled one of the most competitive in the nation by both parties, and the two candidates spent a combined $7.5 million.

Contact staff writer Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or tfitzgerald@phillynews.com.