"This is the most important election in American history … if we don’t beat Obama and take back the U.S. Senate, the country won’t survive … " Such is the rallying cry of many Republicans across Pennsylvania and the nation. When I hear this, several things come to mind:
1. The United States will "survive," even if Barack Obama is elected to a second term. Sure, more spending and bigger government will push the country further down the wrong path, but the GOP would do well to tone down the sky-is-falling rhetoric and concentrate on the actual issues. And for the record, it’s a pretty good bet that America, the most powerful nation the world has ever known, is strong enough to survive a liberal President for a term or two. If one man really can "destroy" the nation, the ballgame was over long ago.
2. The electorate has shown itself to be extremely volatile, with huge swings in the last three elections. Those power shifts were not mandates for either side, but a message to Washington: solve the nation’s economic problems. That trend looks to continue in 2012, and as of now, seems to favor the GOP. In such a "wave," some candidates will win solely because they have an "R" next to their name. That type of "right place, right time" luck should never be a strategy for victory, but in several key races, that appears to be the GOP plan.
What does it say about the Republican Party that, heading into what should be a banner year, it has only two top-tier presidential candidates (and as of two weeks ago, just one)? While it’s still feasible for candidates to enter either race, it is the fourth quarter, and the clock is running. The Iowa caucuses take place in just five months, barely enough time for a late entrant to organize a grassroots ground-game and raise the huge sums necessary to compete. So short of a nationally known figure with a solid track record jumping into the fray (which pretty much comes down to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie), the GOP field is set.
Two candidates? That’s it? In the "most important" election in history to many Republicans, it’s come down to a mere two (Texas Governor Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney)?
And before the partisans cry foul about that analysis, let’s be honest about the field. Congressman Ron Paul has the most loyal supporters, and more than anyone, shapes the debate. But his numbers will stay the same, not nearly enough to win the nomination.
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, while also having passionate supporters, was dealt a severe blow by Perry’s entry, as many Republicans looking for the "conservative with the best chance of winning" have defected. And neither Paul nor Bachmann have history on their side, as only one congressman has ever been elected president (Garfield).
The rest of the field consists of has-beens and also-rans. None can win and labeling them "second-tier" is being entirely too generous.
At least there were four top-tier candidates in 2008 (McCain, Romney, Giuliani, and Thompson) with guys like Paul and former Congressman Tom Tancredo nipping at their heels. But to only have one up until recently begs the question: Of all the Republicans nationwide, how is it possible to have so few viable candidates?
In the all-important electoral swing state of Pennsylvania, things are even worse. There remains no frontrunner to take on vulnerable freshman senator Bob Casey. As a matter of fact, not only isn’t there a "big name" challenger, there is only one announced candidate, only months before the April primary: Marc Scaringi, a former Rick Santorum staffer.
Scaringi is a solid candidate with a firm grasp of the problems facing America, and, truth be told, would be a good U.S. senator. And if he wins the nomination by default because no other candidates step up, he may just be that senator if anti-incumbency fever runs high in Pennsylvania. (Although it is important to note that no Casey—father or son—has ever lost a general election). But he has no name recognition, little money and hails from a sparsely populated area of the state.
So where is everyone else?
Oh, the Party hierarchy is working hard, doing everything in its power to recruit a wealthy businessman who could self-fund the race, which is codespeak for them not wanting to do their job. The most important qualification for Party support? "How big of a check can you write?"
To the business-as-usual establishment, policy positions don’t matter, nor does damn near anything else. One’s knowledge of the issues—and how well a potential candidate can articulate those positions—is irrelevant.
How long have you been a Republican, and how closely aligned to the GOP platform are you? Can you relate to the voters? Will you run the campaign the way it must be run to win—aka visiting all 67 counties in the dead of winter? And are you a candidate of good character? All secondary to the Party establishment. The only thing that matters is the size of your wallet. And that is a major reason why Bob Casey, despite plummeting approval numbers, still maintains the advantage.
Several months ago, I wrote a column stating that the GOP had no frontrunner to challenge Casey and was roundly criticized by the same folks who are now scrambling to find a viable candidate. Some things never change.
And why is that?
Because the GOP, both nationally and in Pennsylvania, too often choose candidates not on merit—as in, who can best defeat the Democratic opponent—but instead, on whose "turn" it is or who can fund the race. In the mold of choosing Bob Dole and John McCain, Pennsylvania’s nominees may look great to Party insiders, but fare dismally when put before the voters.
There has been little effort to groom candidates for the future, and absolutely no push to stop the hemorrhaging from Philadelphia, where Republican statewide candidates routinely face half-a-million vote deficits. So now the Party is in the strange position of sitting on massive gains—having won a U.S. Senate seat (Toomey), the Governor’s office (Corbett), and winning back the State House (a 10-seat majority)—but potentially taking a pass on the Casey seat, which could well be the deciding vote as to which party controls that legislative body.
You reap what you sow, and the critical harvest is upon the GOP.
The biggest irony is that a strong senate candidate could help put Pennsylvania back in the "red" column nationally, as the state is still in electoral play. (Bush lost by only two points in 2004.) And while Republicans can lose Pennsylvania and still win the White House, the same is not the case for the Democrats. Take the Keystone State away from Obama, and you send him packing. It’s that simple.
But with scant Republican leadership in Pennsylvania, it’s not a good bet that will happen. Incumbents don’t usually lose unless they’re challenged by viable, first-tier candidates.
With Rick Perry now in the race, Obama is sweating. But Bob Casey is playing it cool, thankful the GOP is acting like his biggest campaign supporter.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, FreindlyFireZone.com. Readers of his column, "Freindly Fire," hail from six continents, thirty countries and all 50 states. His work has been referenced in numerous publications including the Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, foreign newspapers, and in Dick Morris’ recent bestseller Catastrophe. Freind also serves as a frequent guest commentator on talk radio and state/national television, most notably on FOX Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected].