You would think that with Pennsylvania’s deep Republican roots, freshman Democratic Sen. Bob Casey would be vulnerable in 2012.
Wrong, and the reason is simple. Incumbents don’t lose unless challenged by viable, first-tier candidates, as the Senate elections in Nevada and Alaska proved. As of now, there are none to challenge Casey. But the mere fact that the GOP is in this position speaks volumes about how it builds its “bench.” Translation: It doesn’t.
Pennsylvania’s Republican power was on full display when Ronald Reagan chose three cabinet officials from the same county. Montgomery County produced Drew Lewis (who fired the striking air traffic controllers), Alexander Haig, and Richard Schweiker. Since then, it’s been all downhill for the GOP in the state’s wealthiest and third most populous county.
In 1994, Pennsylvania was the most Republican state in the nation. The GOP controlled the two U.S. Senate seats, the governorship, the state Legislature, all statewide row offices, and a majority in the congressional delegation. But the party lost its way, and, by running untenable candidates, gave up huge chunks of the political landscape — all reasons the state hasn’t voted Republican in a presidential election in what will be, at the minimum, a quarter-century. And the road to the White House goes through Pennsylvania.
But the Keystone State was the epicenter of the recent GOP wave. Five congressional seats flipped, Tom Corbett became governor by trouncing his opponent, the state Senate remained in GOP hands, and the Democratic State House is now controlled by a 10-seat Republican majority.
Yet there is no “go-to” candidate to challenge Casey.
Why? Because the GOP has too often chosen its candidates not on merit — who can best defeat the Democrat — but on whose “turn” it is. In the mold of selecting Bob Dole and John McCain, Pennsylvania’s nominees may look great to party insiders, but fare dismally when put before voters. Just look at the last several elections for governor, treasurer and auditor general.
There has been little effort to groom candidates, and absolutely no initiative to stop the hemorrhaging from Philadelphia, where Republican statewide candidates routinely face half-million vote deficits. Now the party is in the strange position of sitting on massive gains, but potentially passing on the Casey seat.
Depending on the efficiency of party-building efforts, made easier after the recent gains, several quality candidates may arise, but currently, the field is weak.
There are no first-tier candidates. Several congressmen are being mentioned, but the reality of these legislators vacating safe seats to run when the odds don’t favor them? Slim.
Of particular note is the oft-mentioned Rep. Charlie Dent, who will stay in Congress for one simple reason: he is pro-abortion, and in Pennsylvania primaries, that’s a killer. Dent’s only shot would be to have a five candidate field, with his opponents splitting the pro-life vote. Otherwise, he’s not going anywhere.
Perhaps the candidate with the best chance would be a self-funding businessman. Instead of the baggage of an easily-distorted voting record, a charismatic business leader could engage the voters with the only record people care about: jobs he created, how his budgets were managed, and innovative solutions he implemented to solve problems in the face of economic adversity.
Voters increasingly think government should be run like a business, operating within the same constraints as the private sector, so such a platform could prove endearing. And while there are pitfalls of self-financing (he’s “buying” the election), the alternative is far more appealing: he’s beholden to no one.
Both parties should recognize that their business-as-usual selection of candidates needs an overhaul, especially given the nation’s fiscal situation.
For the Republicans, a successful model is law-and-order candidates who have rooted out corruption and taken tough stands, regardless of political fallout.
The results are apparent: New Jersey Gov. (and national star) Chris Christie is a former United States attorney, as are newly-elected Pennsylvania congressmen Pat Meehan and Tom Marino, who unseated a well-funded and popular incumbent. And of course, state Attorney General Tom Corbett, who successfully prosecuted many powerful Harrisburg insiders, ruled the day.
Of note was the fate of John Perzel, longtime Philadelphia politician and former uber-Speaker of the House — the only Republican to lose in the biggest GOP wave since 1946. Law of averages? Bad luck? Hardly. Instead, his loss centered around the 82-count indictment he is facing — a case brought about by Corbett.
Voters know they stand on the precipice, and feel the candidates best suited to clean up the political mess are not the ones whose “turn” it is, but those who have demonstrated the ability to create jobs and put bad guys in jail.
The path has been blazed. The question is: Can the Republican hierarchy finally read the road sign to success?
Chris Freind is an independent columnist, television commentator, and investigative reporter who operates his own news bureau, www.FreindlyFireZone.com. He can be reached at CF@FreindlyFireZone.com.
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