By Bradley Vasoli, The Bulletin
Published: Monday, February 09, 2009
Harrisburg — Pat Toomey stoked fervent interest in his possible gubernatorial candidacy, speaking Friday at a meeting of the Reagan Caucus, a grassroots organization supporting conservatism in Pennsylvania government.
"I always like spending time with the Republican wing of the Republican Party," Mr. Toomey said to loud applause at the Hilton Harrisburg Hotel as Republican committeepersons gathered to vote on judicial candidate endorsements.
Should Mr. Toomey, a former congressman from the Lehigh Valley who unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., in the 2004 Senate primary, decide to enter the governor race, he will face what could end up a crowded field. Pa. Attorney General Tom Corbett; U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, 6th, of Berks, Chester, Lehigh and Montgomery counties; and former U.S. Attorney Pat Meehan have all at least hinted at a potential run.
But many Republicans feel Mr. Toomey alone brings the free-market credentials to energize the party faithful and implement solid center-right policies if elected. The former representative, now the president of the free-market nonprofit Club for Growth, said Friday that conservatism still resonates with voters and that the American people have merely soured on a watered-down version of it.
"We need to remember that the American people didn’t reject conservatism," he said, referring to the results of the 2006 and 2008 elections. "They rejected Republicans who abandoned conservatism."
Mr. Toomey said President Barack Obama’s current agenda provides opportunities for Republicans to reassert their commitment to limited government, beginning with what is now an $827 billion manifold spending proposal. Calling what Mr. Obama has termed a "stimulus bill" an "absolute disgrace," the ex-congressman said, "This is not about growing the economy … This is a naked power grab" by those who want expanded government."
On the state level, he said, Gov. Ed Rendell, D, and other lawmakers have likewise acted as if increasing government’s size will help generate economic growth and new jobs, something he said a new state administration beginning in 2011 must rectify.
"I believe I could bring about the kind of reforms that can get Pennsylvania growing again," he said, adding supporters might need to saddle up for what would be a tough fight. "If I do decide to run I won’t be able to accomplish anything alone. I’ll need your help."
Conservative notables from across the state stopped by the meeting to encourage the Republican Party base and to discuss some of their own candidacies for public office. Among them was Kevin Brobson, a candidate for Commonwealth Court who won the state GOP endorsement the following day. Mr. Brobson said the Republican Party will perform optimally if it is faithful to its principle of adherence to constitutional text.
"I don’t think the Republican Party needs to ‘reach across the aisle,’" he said. "I’m a strict constructionist. I’m not going to do [the legislature’s] job for them."
While Pennsylvania activists are focused mainly on this year’s and next year’s elections, the fact that one of America’s most liberal Republican senators will likely run for reelection in 2010 from this state hasn’t escaped their notice. Lowman Henry, former Dauphin County GOP chairman and current chairman of the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, said the state Republican Committee should decline to endorse Mr. Specter for another term if he supports "card check."
Dubbed in Congress as the Employee Free Choice Act, the legislation would eliminate secret-ballot elections for workers considering unionization. Mr. Specter has intimated support for the proposal in the past but has been noncommittal of late.
Just as state conservative luminaries discussed Mr. Specter’s propensity for economic liberalism, the senator was bucking them on Mr. Obama’s "stimulus." Instead of opposing it, he worked out an agreement whereby he and fellow Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine would support the package over the opposition of every other Republican federal legislator.
Bradley Vasoli can be reached at [email protected]