Scranton looks to regain momentum after firing aide for Swann remark: "Scranton looks to regain momentum after firing aide for Swann remark
Candidate apologizes for campaign manager's racially insensitive comment
Friday, January 27, 2006
By James O'Toole, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
KITTANNING, Pa. -- Bill Scranton, his gubernatorial campaign woozy from weeks of bad news, was in Dizzy Lizzie's restaurant yesterday trying to find his political balance.
A day after firing his campaign manager over a racially insensitive remark about his rival, Mr. Scranton was chasing the momentum that appears to have shifted away from his campaign since Lynn Swann's official entry into the GOP race three weeks ago.
James Seif, Mr. Scranton's second campaign manager, was banished after stating on a PCN television call-in show the previous evening that "the rich white guy in this campaign is Lynn Swann.''
In a year of unprecedented grass-roots unrest over the Harrisburg establishment, Mr. Seif's remark came in the context of the two campaigns' running argument over who can legitimately claim the title of political outsider.
Mr. Scranton almost immediately called for his associate's ouster while issuing a statement apologizing to his opponent. Mr. Scranton said he had also tried to call Mr. Swann to apologize personally, but hadn't yet been able to reach him.
The embarrassing distraction was one in a series of setbacks for the former lieutenant governor.
Mr. Swann's entry into the race in the first week of the new year attracted publicity that far surpassed the attention to Mr. Scranton's official debut months earlier. Then, Mr. Swann scored quick victories in two regional caucuses of the state committee members who are scheduled to endorse a candidate next month, a designation considered a significant asset in the primary campaign.
The positive early news for Mr. Swann continued with the release of a series of public polls showing the former Steelers wide receiver in a virtual tie with the Democratic incumbent, Gov. Ed Rendell. Each of those surveys showed Mr. Scranton trailing Mr. Rendell.
Then, in what was seen as a tacit admission that he was trailing in the state committee arena, Mr. Scranton called for an open primary, asking GOP leaders to forgo an endorsement vote.
Mr. Scranton anticipates some good news in the next few days as the schedule of caucus votes shifts to his home ground. Tomorrow, caucuses in the northeast and northeast/ central sections of the state are expected to vote on the race. Next Tuesday, state committee members from the southwest, including Allegheny County, will vote.
"It's home; we should do well in the caucuses this weekend," Mr. Scranton said after greeting supporters in Kittanning. "It remains to be seen whether they will support an open primary. We're still trying to figure that out.
"I'm pretty sure the northeast caucus will. We'll see about the north central, and I know there's support in the southwest for an open primary. We'll wait and see how strong it is.''
Speaking to an audience of about two dozen in Dizzy Lizzie's, a restaurant in the shadow of the Armstrong County Courthouse, Mr. Scranton renewed his criticism of Mr. Swann for avoiding formal debates before the state committee meeting and suggested that the positive response to his rival's candidacy wouldn't survive prolonged scrutiny.
While praising Mr. Swann's record as a football player, he said, "Celebrity is very powerful in our culture, but celebrity also has its downside. If there isn't something more substantial under that, it will fade in the glare of the sunshine. ... I have challenged him to a debate before the Republican Party endorsement and he has refused. My belief is that if we make a mistake in choosing a candidate, we will lose this once-in-a-generation opportunity to change Harrisburg."
The two candidates have appeared before the same audiences in several forums over the months that they have been campaigning, but Mr. Swann declined to take part in a debate that had been scheduled for this week in Harrisburg. His campaign has said that there will be time for debates before the primary.
In addition to Mr. Swann and Mr. Scranton, James Panyard, a former executive of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, is seeking the GOP nomination, although he has never been a contender for the party endorsement.
In a statement released yesterday, Mr. Panyard called Mr. Seif's remark "stunningly ill-advised."
"It is apparent, given this incident, and Bill Scranton's recent call for an open GOP primary ... that Mr. Swann will [win the endorsement]," Mr. Panyard said.
"It also seems that the 'wheels are coming off' the Scranton campaign wagon," he said.
Ray Zaborney, Mr. Swann's campaign manager, issued a terse statement saying that the campaign intended to remain focused on issues.
Mr. Scranton dismissed the long-term significance of his aide's departure.
"This thing that happened last night, no one could have predicted it," he said. "These things happen in campaigns. You just deal with it; you move on and you just keep going ... surprises always come in a campaign and one of the things it does is test you."
At least for the time being, Mike DeVanney, the deputy campaign manager, presides over the Scranton team.
"We've got depth. We've got a plan and we'll continue to carry it out," a smiling Mr. Scranton said.
According to a running compilation of state committee strength by Capitolwire, the Internet news service, Mr. Swann is rapidly approaching a majority in the endorsement sweepstakes.
While continuing to hold out hope that the party will choose an open primary, Mr. Scranton said he was determined to remain in the race through the primary.
(Politics Editor James O'Toole can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1562.)"