DeWeese faces uphill fight in reelection

Bill DeWeese on the campaign trail

Onetime top House Democrat Bill DeWeese is facing corruption charges for allegedly conducting campaign work with state resources. But he’s still running for reelection, and faces a tough primary challenge from Greene County Commissioner Pam Snyder.

Scott Detrow visited the 50th Legislative District, and has this report on one of the tightest primary contests in the state.

A widening financial gap

Heading into the final six weeks before the May 18th gubernatorial primaries, Republican Tom Corbett and Democrat Dan Onorato have a substantial advantage over their opponents, when it comes to financial resources.

Campaign finance reports filed with the Department of State show Corbett raised $1.7 million last quarter, and has $4 million to spend before the primary.

Onorato has a $6.7 million campaign war chest. That will help him purchase significantly more television ads than his Democratic opponents, who have much more limited bank accounts. Onorato is the only candidate on the airwaves right now, though he’ll be joined by Philadelphia Senator Anthony Williams, who has about $1.5 million on hand, next week.

Auditor General Jack Wagner’s campaign has about $673,000 in the bank, while Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel’s campaign has just more than $101,000 to spend. All the Democrats have low statewide name recognition, so Onorato’s money may allow him to gain a leg up on his opponents, when it comes to building a higher profile with voters.

On the Republican side, Corbett has substantially more money than his opponent, State Representative Sam Rohrer. The Rohrer campaign raised $172,000  last quarter, but has just $7,000 on hand.

Williams to hit the airwaves

PoliticsPA has a nice exclusive today: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Anthony Williams will begin airing television ads in the Philadelphia market on Wednesday. Right now, Democrat Dan Onorato is the only statewide candidate on the air. According to the report, Williams will keep the ads on the air through the primary — that’s a commitment of several million dollars, and reflects a confidence the campaign will continue to build on the $1.7 million it raised last quarter.
Meantime, Senate candidate Joe Sestak remains coy about when he’ll start running ads. I asked him during a phone interview this afternoon. His response: “it’s going to be in the next six weeks.”

Another candidates’ debate

UPDATE: Here’s my radio report on tonight’s reform debate. See below for a link to a PLS live forum I took part in during the event.

By and large, all six candidates for governor spoke from the same page last night during a Harrisburg forum focused on reform issues.

Scott Detrow reports from the state Capitol.

I’ll be taking part in a live forum about tonight’s gubernatorial debate over at “FYI by PLS.” You can read that here — and be sure to check back  for more coverage later tonight.

GOP candidates face the 9/12ers

Jim Thorpe — Sitting in front of a three-story tall American flag at a mountaintop Carbon County concert venue, Tom Corbett and Sam Rohrer made their case to a group of 9/12ers tonight. As sleet and snow fell outside of Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe, about 200 conservative grassroots activists sat and listened to the two Republicans, who were joined by Hazleton Mayor and Congressional candidate Lou Barletta, as well as lieutenant governor hopeful Steve Urban.

Corbett’s anti-health care lawsuit dominated the early portion of the forum. Corbett insisted, once again, that the suit isn’t politically motivated. “What we are doing is protecting the individual’s right to choose,” he said. “The individual’s right, in this case, to do nothing. Not to engage in commerce.” Afterward, Corbett told reporters he would stop discussing the lawsuit if Democrats halt their partisan attacks on the motion.

But Corbett spent much of his opening statement talking about the matter, and he singled out the legal challenge when a questioner asked how he’d respond to overreaching by the federal government.

An unusually fiery Rohrer backed Corbett’s decision to join the effort.

Rohrer was clearly playing on his home turf tonight. (More on that tomorrow.) He received round after round of applause from the audience, especially when he laid out his signature effort to eliminate Pennsylvania’s property tax. He says the levy is simply unconstitutional.

Corbett pushed back on the issue, saying Rohrer’s plan to fund school districts with Marcellus Shale royalties, gambling revenue and a broadened sales tax base wouldn’t be able to pass the General Assembly. He also questioned whether Rohrer’s math added up. Corbett called property taxes a serious issue, and promised to look into the matter, but Rohrer said that isn’t enough.

Rohrer momentarily lost his footing at the end of the forum, when a questioner brought up the 2005 pay raise, and asked whether it was “legally or morally right” for lawmakers to vote for it and take the hike. Rohrer, who voted for the pay increase, skirted the answer. “For me, on that issue, I said the taking of it is unconstitutional and immoral,” he explained. “I think I was one of few members who didn’t take it. The court said it was ok. All the members had to deal with that appropriately.”

Corbett alluded to Rohrer’s pro-pay raise vote at the beginning of his answer, calling it “the big elephant in the middle of the room.” But he didn’t specifically tell the audience his opponent voted “yes,” or Rohrer after he failed to bring up the vote himself. Corbett did bring it up when talking to reporters after the session, though.

Rohrer has said he committed to supporting the pay raise before he realized the full scope of the measure, and that he regrets the vote.

I’ll have more on the 9/12er forum – specifically the audience’s reaction to Corbett and Rohrer – tomorrow.

Hoeffel on the attack

Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel got a bit chippy during a mid-morning Capitol press conference. His first target: Attorney General Tom Corbett, who Hoeffel says is only joining the anti-health care reform lawsuit to score political points with conservative Republican voters — or as Hoeffel puts it, “teabagging tea partiers.”

Corbett’s campaign recently sent out a fund-raising mailer touting the lawsuit as proof the A-G “is working to stop the federal government from threatening individual liberties by imposing this mandate.” Hoeffel says that’s evidence of the Republican front-runner’s real motivations.

Hoeffel has tried to stake himself out as the liberal candidate in the race. He supports a graduated income tax, less abortion restrictions, legalized gay marriage and a host of other traditionally liberal policies. If the strategy is going to work, Hoeffel will need strong support from the Philadelphia suburbs on May 18th. To that end, many view Senator Anthony Williams’ campaign as a real threat to Hoeffel. So I took note when the commissioner took aim at Williams’ platform during an answer about education funding.

It’s one of the first times I’ve heard a Democratic gubernatorial candidate “go negative” about one of his primary opponents. Time and time again, the four Democrats have failed to offer clear policy distinctions during their joint forums or solo press appearances. (This is a clear contrast to the Senate race, where Arlen Specter, Joe Sestak and Pat Toomey are blasting out negative emails on a near-hourly basis.)

For his part, Williams says he isn’t worried his pro-vouchers stance turn off Democratic voters. In fact, Williams says he’ll make an issue of calling out his opponents for what he considers to be inconsistent views.

All six candidates will take part in a forum Wednesday night. It will be interesting to see whether Hoeffel continues to play offense in that setting.

PoliticsPA: Nutter to endorse Williams

Alex Roarty of PoliticsPA reports Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter will endorse Senator Anthony Williams’ gubernatorial campaign. Roarty writes, “Nutter’s endorsement likely adds credibility to Williams’ candidacy while boosting his image in not just Philadelphia, but the voter-rich southeast, which shares the city’s media market.”

An gin-free Arlen Specter profile

Following up on yesterday’s Sestak profile, here’s my accompanying report on Senator Arlen Specter

It’s been nearly a year since Senator Arlen Specter joined the Democratic Party. The five-term incumbent says he hasn’t changed his principles, but his two main opponents in this year’s Senate race say Specter is a political opportunist who’s just trying to hold onto his job.
Scott Detrow, who spent part of a day last week shadowing Specter in Washington, DC, has this report.

(And if you’re confused by the gin reference, here’s the Inquirer’s recent Specter profile)

A day with Joe Sestak

Last week I went down to Washington to interview both Congressman Joe Sestak and Senator Arlen Specter. Here’s the first of two profiles on the Democratic Senate candidates.

Like a borderline athlete who’s determined to make up for his lack of raw talent with pure hustle, Congressman Joe Sestak is trying to compensate for Senator Arlen Specter’s lead in the polls by outworking his primary opponent.

Scott Detrow spent time in Washington, DC with the lawmaker, who packed in a full day of campaigning and legislating.

Like a borderline athlete who’s determined to make up for his lack of raw talent with pure hustle, Congressman Joe Sestak is trying to compensate for Senator Arlen Specter’s lead in the polls by outworking his primary opponent.

Scott Detrow spent time in Washington, DC with the lawmaker, who packed in a full day of campaigning and legislating.

Rendell on Sestak: “he’ll still get killed.”

Governor Rendell is ready to stick a fork in Congressman Joe Sestak’s Senate campaign.  “He’ll still get killed,” he said, when we asked whether Rendell wanted to revisit last year’s primary prediction during a special “Politics as Usual” podcast.

Rendell says that’s not a knock against Sestak, who he calls a good congressman – but rather a reflection of Specter’s decades-long record of providing federal money and services to Pennsylvania’s 67 counties. ““It does matter what you do. Not just on big issues, but small ones. Arlen did it for thirty years. There’s no way Joe can make up for that in a campaign. He’s out there making promises against someone who delivered.”

The analysis came during the podcast session, and in a subsequent pad and paper interview.

Rendell’s relationship with Specter goes back to 1968, when the future Senator hired him to work in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office. Rendell prodded Specter to switch parties for years, and endorsed the longtime Republican’s reelection effort immediately after Specter became a Democrat last April.

Rendell says Sestak has been working hard…

Sestak disagrees. During an interview in Washington DC last week, he said he’s confident the race’s dynamics will shift once his campaign starts airing television ads. “People have not been paying attention,” he insisted.   “We’ve put away more money than anyone else has ever raised against Specter,” he claimed, so the ads will be able to do their job.

Rendell concedes Sestak will be able to tighten the gap – the latest Quinnipiac Poll gave Specter a 53-29 percent advantage – but thinks the congressman miscalculated his run. “Joe just didn’t understand how big a state it is,” he said. “The problem is he got on TV occasionally, and thought, ‘well, I’m from Philadelphia, everyone must know me.’ The truth is, only a small percentage outside his Congressional district knows him.”

In contrast, Rendell argues Specter has been building his brand and developing relationships with Pennsylvanians for decades. He recalled a series of conference calls he, Democratic Chairman TJ Rooney and Specter held with Democratic committee chairman and county commissioners last year.  “The commissioners all knew Arlen. It blew me away. He knew more commissioners than I did. It was astounding.”

Specter has built a record of trust with the voters, Rendell said, to the point where the governor speculated both he and Senator Bob Casey would have a tough time defeating the longtime Republican in this year’s Democratic primary.

The full Rendell podcast is available, as usual, at Capitol Ideas. Additional coverage from co-podder Alex Roarty at PoliticsPA.

UPDATE: Sestak responds to the prediction, saying, “I like Ed; he and I will share a ‘Rendelli’ sandwich at Wawa after we win the primary — resurrecting this classic as was done in 2003 after Ed upset the old guard for governor. It’ll again serve as a reminder to today’s old guard that it’s important never to forget in America that it’s the people — not the establishment’s desire – that good leaders focus upon, and that’s why we’ll win.”


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