All signs point to 2010 being a banner year for Republicans in Pennsylvania. Powered by the national backlash over the dramatic leftward tilt of the Obama Administration, the GOP appears poised to win back the U.S. Senate seat lost by the defection last year of Arlen Specter, pick up a number of congressional seats, and reclaim the governor’s office.
The Republican tide runs so deep and so strong all this is likely to happen despite deep and deepening divisions within the ranks of the GOP. Only Pat Toomey, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate, has largely united the party behind him. It is in races for the other two statewide offices on the ballot – governor and lieutenant governor – where the fissure emerges.
State party leaders thought they had successfully cleared the field for Attorney General Tom Corbett to claim the gubernatorial nomination uncontested. Then State Representative Sam Rohrer jumped into the race. While Rohrer remains a decided underdog, he is filling rooms across the state with town hall-style meetings and has tapped into the energy of the TEA party movement. Something is happening at the grassroots level, but it is too early to tell where it might lead.
But it is the down ballot race for lieutenant governor where the intra-party angst is most prominent. In a normal year the selection of a lieutenant governor candidate is almost an afterthought. In fact, traditionally, the party’s endorsed candidate for governor has selected his or her own lieutenant gubernatorial running mate. Those candidates have generally faced little or no primary opposition; then they go along for the ride in the general election as governors and lieutenant governors are voted on as a team.
That hasn’t happened this year. A multi-candidate field emerged to contend for the party endorsement, which eventually went to Bucks County Commissioner Jim Cawley. This occurred after two ballots and considerable behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Several of the candidates then stepped aside in deference to the party’s decision. But, some did not, and a number of other candidates ignored the endorsement process entirely and joined the fray at the filing deadline.
A field of nine candidates will appear on the ballot for lieutenant governor this year. It consists basically of Cawley – and eight others, most of who are running on a reform agenda. Part of what they want to reform is the endorsement process itself, which this year sparked an unusual amount of controversy amid ignored calls for an open primary.
State Representative Daryl Metcalfe, a surprise last-minute entry into the race, began his campaign with a verbal blast at state party chairman Rob Gleason. Chet Beiler, the party’s 2008 nominee for auditor general, continued his campaign for lieutenant governor after finishing second for the endorsement infuriated by what he saw as party leaders putting their fingers on the scale. York County businessman Steve Johnson; and the party’s 2004 nominee for state treasurer, Jean Craige Pepper, also competed for the endorsement and lost. Both have stayed in the race.
Also in the field are candidates who have made their reputations fighting for reform. Former State Representative John Kennedy of Cumberland County refused a state pension and other perks accorded legislators during his terms in office; and Russ Diamond of Lebanon County led the Clean Sweep movement that sprang up in the wake of the infamous pay raise debacle. Rounding out the field are Luzerne County Commissioner Steve Urban and Billy McCue, a conservative activist from Washington County.
The conservative base of the Republican Party in Pennsylvania has for years felt estranged from the official party establishment. That estrangement has manifested itself in several ways, ranging from the ousting of incumbent legislators in the wake of the pay raise controversy, to the recent flocking of conservative Republicans into the TEA party movement.
This year, the battle is being fought by Rohrer, but also in the race for lieutenant governor. With nine candidates running around the state, and six or seven beating the drums for reform, the inescapable targets are party and elected leaders and the systems they have constructed. It is here the battle for the soul of the GOP is being fought.
The danger, of course, is that with one officially anointed candidate and multiple reform candidates the reform vote will predominate, but be split, allowing Cawley to emerge as the ultimate winner. Geography, name recognition, fundraising and ballot positions will also play important roles. The outcome is uncertain, but one thing is for sure; the outrage and anger are for real and for the Republican Party to remain viable going forward it is going to have address that anger by instituting significant reforms.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected])
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