Pennsylvania Republicans appear to be ignoring a time-honored tradition in the coming race for Governor. For the first time in decades, it’s nobody’s turn at the job. This hasn’t always been a bad strategy. Twelve years ago it worked well for a Congressman who described himself as someone “nobody ever heard of, from a town that nobody has been to.” That Congressman, Tom Ridge, became one of the state’s most effective Governors and went on to assume the daunting task of forming America’s Department of Homeland Security in one of the nation’s darkest hours.
Last time around, though, the strategy was somewhat lackluster. Mike Fisher was given the nod by Republican leadership early on, but Ed Rendell, known in the Philadelphia press as “Fast Eddie,” danced rings around him. With the Republican State Committee’s endorsement meeting coming in February, there’s no clear front runner and the GOP has the chance to make history.
Can Rendell be beaten? Undoubtedly. This week the state gambling commission announced that actual licensing is still a year away. Even if the General Assembly moves some form of property tax reform, it’s unlikely at this late date that homeowners will see any effect from it. We’re still looking for the billions in savings that never materialized from bundled contracts, a Rendell theory that caused a lot of pain for many small Pennsylvania businesses. And, of course, there is the pay raise that turned into unvouchered expenses that was rescinded but really wasn’t then finally was and when it gets into court who knows where the story goes.
Three major players are lined up looking for the State Committee’s endorsement: Former Lieutenant Governor Bill Scranton, Dauphin County based Senator Jeff Picola, and Pro Football Hall of Fame member Lynn Swann.
Detractors claim that Swann’s track record isn’t strong enough. He’s never held elective office. Considering the enormous popularity that the eternally elected in our capital have generated with their constituents lately, Swann’s record could be attractive to many. But Swann’s got what the other two candidates don’t: name recognition. Tom Ridge’s earliest critics claimed he had no state experience and not much of a track record from his years in Congress.
Montgomery County Commissioners chair Jim Matthews wants the Republican endorsement for Lieutenant Governor. He’s the smart money if Swann tops the ticket. In his second term as commissioner of the state’s third most populous county Matthews is on top of every hot button issue in the southeastern and south-central suburbs. Open space: he buys it. Hiking trails: he builds them. Boroughs revitalized: he walks their streets.
The question for the Republicans isn’t policy, its strategy. In the 2002 election cycle, Governor Rendell beat Mike Fisher by nearly two to one in every suburban Philadelphia County. Arguably his years of chasing TV cameras all day as mayor of Philadelphia gave him tremendous name recognition in those markets. Today however he has his track record, and with Matthews on the Republican ticket his pickings won’t be as easy as they were three years ago.
The Republican State Committee has a lot to consider over the next few weeks. But someday if Jim Matthews becomes Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, he’ll be the wind under Lynn Swann’s wings.
The Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc.