Sunday, January 08, 2006

01/08/2006 - Scranton Looking Weak in MontCo Swann Gaining Strength - Asher/Lewis Fight a Factor

Reporter - News - 01/08/2006 - Republicans not taking sides: "Republicans not taking sides
JACOB FENTON, Staff Writer01/08/2006

Top Republican contenders for governor are making in-roads into Montgomery County‚ home to some of the state’s most influential donors. But with a state committee endorsement meeting slated for February‚ local party leaders aren’t yet saying publicly who they’ll support.

Both leading Republican candidates – former Steelers pro-bowler Lynn Swann and former Lieutenant Governor Bill Scranton – have ties to the county. Swann has endorsed County Commissioner Jim Matthews for lieutenant governor‚ and on Thursday‚ Scranton announced that PPL Vice President Jim Seif‚ of Blue Bell‚ would be his campaign manager.

Dauphin County State Sen. Jeffrey Piccola – who endorsed Matthews before Swann did – and former Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association director Jim Panyard are also in the race.

The party’s endorsement carries a particularly heavy weight; unendorsed Republican challengers traditionally bow out out of the race.

That’s one reason getting in touch with state committee members – as well as donors – is important early on in the race.

Raising money early in the race “sends a signal of the candidates’ strength; it’s the same as early season endorsements‚” said Seif.

Republican National Committeeman Bob Asher‚ owner of Asher’s Chocolates in Franconia‚ is one the area’s most influential fundraisers.

Seif said he’d been friendly with Asher since 1978.

“I’ve known him since then and respected him for all of that time‚ if you get my drift – all of it‚” he said.

Asher spent a year in prison on federal corruption charges in the early 1990s.

Drew Lewis‚ who served as transportation secretary under President Ronald Reagan‚ also lives in the Indian Valley. Lewis and his wife gave Montgomery County District Attorney Bruce L. Castor Jr. more than $600‚000 in his doomed 2004 primary run for state Attorney General.

Asher backed Castors’ opponent in a divisive and negative campaign that’s left some insiders assuming the two will back opposing candidates this year.

“We’re kind of like family – we fight like cats and dogs behind closed doors but when we come out we’re usually together‚” said Nancy Becker‚ state committeewoman for the North Penn area.

For now at least‚ Seif said both Asher and county Republican committee Chairman Ken Davis were staying neutral on the governor’s race.

Having Matthews in the race may help unite the often fractious county GOP‚ Becker said.

If local Republican leaders are mum on their favorite candidate for Governor‚ they’re enthusiastic about Matthews for second-in-command.

“I think our main focus right now is to get behind Jim Matthews‚ who is our favorite son‚” said Becker.

Matthews gave up his chairmanship of the county commissioners this week to spend more time on the campaign trail. Last week‚ Matthews and campaign manager Josh Wilson put 1‚200 miles on a leased Ford Explorer criss-crossing the state to meet with Republican chieftains.

Having Matthews on the ticket may swing 20‚000 votes to the Republican candidate‚ he said.

And the region’s votes on the Republican state committee could be seriously helpful to either Swann or Scranton‚ though they may not go in a single block.

Both Becker and Ted Poatsy‚ a state committeeman from Upper Salford‚ said they didn’t have a preference in the race.

“We’re keeping our powder dry‚” said Poatsy.

Staying above the fray – at least for now – should increase Montgomery County’s relative clout in picking the Republican nominee‚ Poatsy said.

“We’re not going to make a commitment until February. It gives the whole Montgomery County a little more power‚” he said.

The Chester County Republican Committee has endorsed Lynn Swann‚ who waited until this week to officially announce his long-rumored candidacy.

But even as Republican gubernatorial campaigns get into gear across the state‚ some point out that Gov. Ed Rendell will be the favorite.

Incumbent governors are so often reelected to a second term there’s even a name for it: “the rule of eight.”

©Reporter 2006"

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