Philadelphia Inquirer | 11/20/2005 | Whom to run against Rendell?: "Posted on Sun, Nov. 20, 2005
Whom to run against Rendell?
By Angela Couloumbis and Carrie Budoff
Inquirer Staff Writers
He's got to have style, charisma, and the gift of gab. He should be able to command the issues, kiss the babies, and in the next breath, raise millions of dollars. Star power is a must.
That is what state Republicans say they are looking for in the person they want to run next year against Gov. Rendell, a champion campaigner and fund-raiser in his own right.
What they have so far is a field of four potential and declared candidates - and a party that can't seem to agree on whom to back.
Even in the powerful Southeast, which commands roughly one-third of the state's votes and which historically has been unified behind a single candidate, there is a significant split among Republicans about whom to endorse.
For instance, Chester County Republicans recently endorsed former Pittsburgh Steeler Lynn Swann, despite strong signs from the others in the Southeast that the best candidate to take on Rendell is former Lt. Gov. Bill Scranton.
The division and uncertainty raise tough questions for state Republicans as they prepare to formally endorse a candidate early next year. Chief among them: whether a party this torn over candidates can unite behind one person and avoid a primary fight that would siphon precious dollars away from the race against Rendell. And, even if that does happen, whether those who don't get the party nod will pull out of the race and not run a renegade campaign.
Republican state committee members are scheduled to vote on whom to endorse in early February.
"We've got outstanding candidates, all widely accomplished, all passionate about their vision for Pennsylvania," said GOP party chair Eileen Melvin. Still, she said, "my goal is to get an endorsement, and avoid a primary... so we can all work together to beat Ed Rendell."
Republican political analyst William J. Green put it this way: "Unity is something that doesn't come easily to Republicans. We don't unify as well as Democrats. They kiss and make up and then they like each other. Republicans are like a bunch of first cousins - they kiss and make up, but then they hate the other person."
Scranton, a lieutenant governor from 1979 to 1987, announced his candidacy during a swing across the state last month. The only abortion-rights supporter in the GOP field, he is portraying himself as an outsider fed up with the way Rendell has run Harrisburg. He lives outside Scranton.
Swann, an ABC sports broadcaster who lives in the Pittsburgh suburbs, has yet to formally announce, yet he has been behaving like a committed candidate, traveling across the state to meet with Republicans whose support he will need if he wants the party nod.
Sen. Jeffrey E. Piccola, a conservative from Dauphin County and a staunch critic of Rendell's, has not formally announced, but he has made no secret of his interest in running.
And Jim Panyard, a conservative former businessman from Palmyra, Lebanon County, announced his candidacy in September, but he is not seeking the party's endorsement.
For many party leaders, the contest increasingly appears to be coming down to a decision between Scranton and Swann, who consistently run neck-and-neck in polls as the strongest Rendell challengers. There is even speculation in GOP circles that Piccola will be exiting the race, possibly before next month's Pennsylvania Society bash, the annual social gathering in New York of politicians, lawyers, lobbyists, and others who fuel campaign efforts.
Piccola campaign spokesman Dean Ouelette said the senator was very much in the running and would be asking for the endorsement in February.
Although the state's six Republican regional caucuses have yet to poll their members on whom they back, their leaders have already started aligning themselves with candidates.
Matthew Brann, who chairs the party's Northeast caucus, said he believes Scranton is best positioned to beat Rendell. Ditto for Tom Judge, head of the Southeast caucus. Northeast/Central caucus chair Bob Ames said he's leaning toward Scranton, too.
But Southwest caucus chairwoman Jan Rea said she is a Swann devotee, as are Ash Khare, caucus chair in the Northwest, and Joyce Haas, cochair on the Central caucus.
Dick Stewart, the other cochair in the Central caucus, is standing by Piccola.
"I'm going to operate under the assumption that there will be a primary," Ames said last week. "But I would much rather we try to resolve our differences... Primaries can be very costly, and given that fact that Gov. Rendell has an ability to raise vast sums of money, I'd rather we not have to go through that."
Political observers say any Republican challenger would have to raise about $30 million to compete with Rendell, who spent more than $40 million during his 2002 gubernatorial bid.
A primary could cost from several million dollars to upward of $10 million, they said.
Piccola spokesman Ouelette said the senator would not run a primary if the party does not endorse him. Swann and Scranton's campaigns would not say definitively what they would do.
Though some party members believe a primary wouldn't signal a death knell - after all, Rendell ran a primary in 2002 - they acknowledge that it has the potential to bruise feelings and unnecessarily rough up reputations.
Already, the camps within the party are quietly vetting Swann and Scranton.
Swann, who reports on college football, has been criticized for being politically inexperienced. Case in point: He had been invited to a recent event by Republicans in Lawrence County but bagged it to attend a White House state dinner for Prince Charles.
Swann has also been knocked for holding back on formalizing his plans for 2006. The speculation is that he will announce in January after the college football season ends.
"When you don't announce, people don't take you seriously," said Renee Amoore, the state GOP deputy chair who has urged Swann to formalize his candidacy soon. "Not announcing is an issue to me. How can you market someone if they haven't announced?"
Scranton, on the other hand, has been singled out for being part of the political establishment as well as someone who has already tried his hand at the governorship - and lost.
Melvin, the state party chair, said she believes the machinations behind choosing a candidate will help to determine the strongest candidate - and make the party stronger.
"I think the debate is healthy."
Contact staff writer Angela Couloumbis at 717-787-5934 or firstname.lastname@example.org."