Susquehanna Fever: 2010 Governor’s race beginning to take shape

Member Group : Lincoln Institute

With the Presidential race running red hot, especially here in Pennsylvania, little attention is being paid to the 2010 race for governor of Penn’s woods. Ed Rendell is unable to succeed himself again, so the seat is wide open and behind the scenes the angling has already begun.

Since state governors were term limited under revisions made to the state constitution as a result of the 1967 constitutional convention, the governorship has moved back and forth between the two parties every eight years. No incumbent governor has been defeated for re-election, yet no party has been able to extend their control over the executive branch for more than two terms.

This "eight year cycle" gives rise to Republican hopes for reclaiming the state’s top office, but recent voter registration trends give Democrats their best chance ever at breaking the cycle. Thus, both party nominations are highly prized setting the stage for a major battle in 2010.

On the Democratic side, conventional wisdom installed Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato as the early front runner. But, he stumbled getting out of the starting blocks. Allegheny County includes the city of Pittsburgh – the ultimate shot and beer town – and Onorato put a highly unpopular tax on drinks. The uproar that resulted rivals that which emanates from Heinz Field when the Steelers score a touchdown.

While he is off to an early fundraising lead, Onorato’s drink tax mis-step has tarnished his frontrunner’s luster. The entry into the race of Philadelphia millionaire Tom Knox has also injected a large element of uncertainty into the race. Knox spent millions to come in second in the Philadelphia mayoral primary last year, and he has vowed to open his check book again in his quest for the governorship.

My colleague at the Lincoln Institute, Ryan Shafik, has already penned a piece placing his bet on Knox to win the primary. A combination of Knox’s money and City of Philadelphia base give him two strong advantages against a relatively weak Democratic field. And, the more crowded that field becomes – such as with the potential entry into the race of Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham, Auditor General Jack Wagner, and perhaps others – the non-Philadelphia vote will be further split, thus strengthening Knox’s position.

Meanwhile, the GOP race will not take shape until after this November’s election. That is because the status of Attorney General Tom Corbett will be decided at that time. Corbett is seeking re-election to his post; with a successful re-election bid seen as necessary for him to compete in the gubernatorial primary. Corbett faces a daunting registration deficit in his fight with Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli. And, Corbett’s high profile Bonusgate investigation is a wild card in the race. The Attorney General is seen either as a corruption busting law enforcer, or engaging in a partisan witch hunt. The view that wins out will likely determine the outcome of the election. If Corbett wins, he will immediately be perceived as the front-runner.

But if Corbett runs for governor he likely will face stiff competition. Most notably from conservative icon Pat Toomey, who nearly upset U.S. Senator Arlen Specter in the 2004 Republican primary. Toomey has demonstrated his ability to motivate the party’s conservative base. His entry into the race would be Palinesque in energizing the grassroots troops. And, given his national fundraising connections as President of the national Club for Growth, Toomey would leave weak fundraisers like Corbett in the dust.

The race, however, could be considerably more crowded and complicated. Steeler great Lynn Swann, who led the GOP to a crushing defeat as its gubernatorial nominee in 2006, has refused to rule out another run for the state’s top elective office. Another serious contender would be the former U.S. Attorney for Eastern Pennsylvania, Patrick Meehan, who recently resigned from that office to take a job in the private sector and presumably to begin laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial campaign. Like Corbett, Meehan sports a strong law-and-order resume having indicted state Senator Vince Fumo on a multitude of charges. And, Montgomery County Commissioner Bruce Castor could enter the race and compete for the votes of the conservative base.

Although still outside of the spotlight, the race for Governor of Pennsylvania has already begun. Once all those Presidential guys (and gal) get out of the way, the combatants will emerge onto the battlefield and the fight will begin in earnest.

(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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