Activists Surge to Pennsylvania Leadership Conference

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(This article first appeared in the American Spectator.)

By Jeff Lord

It was an amazing sight.

Meeting over the weekend in suburban Harrisburg, the conservative Pennsylvania Leadership Conference was flooded with activists from all over the state.

They spent hour after hour in workshops patiently listening and planning how to deal with issues around the state in areas as diverse as election integrity, empowering parents, the pro-life movement, energy independence, and threats from China and Big Tech. It closed out with a workshop on campaign training, working polls — and watching them.

Notably, the Thursday run-up to the two-day weekend conference featured a day-long seminar sponsored by the Conservative Partnership Institute’s Election Integrity Network headed by longtime conservative attorney and activist Cleta Mitchell. It is no small thing that the election integrity seminar was filled and that there was an acute awareness by both presenters and attendees that yes, in fact, Pennsylvania has a real problem with running honest elections and that the Republican state legislature needs to get the problem fixed — pronto.

Candidates both for governor and Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat were everywhere, with debates for all the candidates in each race. (And full disclosure: I was the moderator for the Senate debates.)

In particular, it should be noted that both races have a profusion of excellent candidates that bodes well for the general election. Their supporters made themselves known as well, with the entrance sidewalk to the Penn Harris Hotel a sea of lawn signs for each and every candidate.

Republican state legislators were also everywhere as speakers or on workshop panels, with Republican Reps. Scott Perry and Lloyd Smucker as well as former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum all speaking. Pennsylvania’s treasurer, Stacy Garrity, and the state auditor general, Timothy DeFoor, both spoke. And present as well as a panelist was The American Spectator’s own Paul Kengor, a political science professor at Western Pennsylvania’s Grove City College.

Fox News host and former South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy was the star attraction for the glitzy Friday dinner, with former Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin kicking off the Saturday gathering with a breakfast speech. And not to be forgotten was the barnburner speech from the Rev. C.L. Bryant, the host of the C.L. Bryant Show.

Newsmax’s chief political columnist and White House correspondent John Gizzi spoke as well. John also served on the Senate debate stage as a panelist, along with Rose Tennent, the well-known longtime talk radio star in Western Pennsylvania as well as a guest host for Sean Hannity’s radio show and host of her own podcast, Rose Unplugged.

What was impossible to miss was the energy and enthusiasm of one and all, a decided signal that all the headlines out there about a “Red Wave” in the 2022 elections are not simply idle political chatter.

So too was it impossible to miss the presence of supporters of former President Donald Trump. The iconic “Make America Great” red hats were everywhere, and notably, the candidates who took the stage for the debates were very supportive of the former president.

At the conclusion, the results of the PLC annual straw poll were announced. It was notable that not only was the conference preceded by a day-long workshop on election integrity in Pennsylvania, but when asked what was the most important issue facing the Pennsylvania General Assembly in 2022, an overwhelming 61 percent cited election integrity, with other issues like the state budget, drilling in the Marcellus Shale, and property tax reform trailing far behind. A landslide 86 percent of the PLC attendees supported an automatic audit of “every election regardless of result.”

The winners of the gubernatorial candidate straw poll were announced as a two-way tie between State Sen. Doug Mastriano and former U.S. Attorney Bill McSwain. The Senate vote went to veteran, former adjunct professor of corporate finance, sought-after conference speaker, and conservative political commentator Kathy Barnette. Businessman Jeff Bartos came in second.

As noted, what was impossible to miss at this year’s PLC was the combination of energy and determination to win the 2022 elections. Each of the gubernatorial and Senate candidates had their supporters, but the realization that the party base has to rally to whomever the winners might be to take back the governorship and keep the Senate seat in a GOP majority was impossible to miss.

It is exactly the energy and enthusiasm of the GOP base that has produced headlines like this one at Fox News:

CNN, MSNBC, NBC and more worry about bloodbath for the Democrats in midterms: ‘The end of our country’

And this one from Breitbart:

Report — Democrats Worried About 2022 as Surveys Find Brand in Shambles: ‘We’re F***ed’

It is a fact that the first midterm election of a new president usually produces dismal results. Presidents with names like Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Obama, and Trump all had the problem. Bush 43 avoided the curse in the aftermath of his support rallying because of 9/11, a similar result to the same support for President John F. Kennedy whose first (and only) midterm was boosted by his handling of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

Added to this, though, are the particulars of Biden’s problems — make that self-induced problems — of soaring gas prices, the worst inflation in 40 years, a disintegrating southern border, the disaster in Afghanistan, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. All add up to a two-fold disaster ahead for Biden, and the energy on vivid display at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference was nothing if not firsthand evidence of what’s coming down the pike for Democrats.

The Pennsylvania Leadership Conference has become the go-to place for the state’s conservative activists, elected officials, and candidates. As noted, its featured evening speaker this year was Fox’s Trey Gowdy. But it regularly draws A-list speakers, in past years including other Fox figures like Laura Ingraham and Jesse Watters.

Based on the success of this year’s gathering, it is clear that the PLC’s influence will only continue to grow. Which is a decidedly good thing for Pennsylvania politics itself.