Madonna: Rohrer write-in should worry Corbett

Rohrer with Pittsburgh-area supporters on Primary Day

A group of conservative voters has launched a write-in gubernatorial campaign for Berks Country Representative Sam Rohrer, who lost in the spring primary. One analyst says he can envision a scenario where the movement has an impact on the fall election.

Rohrer and his hard-line conservative platform won 31 percent of the vote in May. The lawmaker hasn’t endorsed Republican nominee Tom Corbett, and indicates he doesn’t have any plans to. Pennsylvania law bars primary losers from running on third-party ballot lines, but a small group of Rohrer supporters have launched a website urging voters to write in Rohrer’s name in this fall.

Franklin and Marshall College political scientist Terry Madonna says the Corbett campaign should be worried. “I mean [Corbett] has, not arguably, somewhere between a seven to ten point lead,” he says.  “But what happens if they end up absorbing 7 to 10 points of his lead? I don’t think that’s out of the question, for Rohrer to get up to ten points.” Madonna says if nothing else, the campaign creates more hassles for Corbett. “You don’t want to be there if you don’t have to be,” he argues.

Rohrer is keeping the write-in campaign at arms-length distance. He didn’t return calls for comment, and Representative Gordon Denlinger, a Lancaster Country Republican who’s close to Rohrer, says the representative isn’t endorsing the movement. Denlinger isn’t fully backing the effort, either, but says it’s wrong to tell conservatives to vote for Corbett, just to put a Republican in the governor’s mansion. “, I would certainly not ever encourage someone to say, set aside your beliefs, let that take a back seat and just move forward with some type of a political calculation,” he argues.

Rohrer centered his primary bid around reduced government spending. He argues Pennsylvania is on the verge of insolvency, and increased spending and dishonest budgeting are putting the state billions of dollars in the hole each year. Rohrer actively courted “Tea Party” voters, appearing at 9/12 Project and Tea Party meetings across the commonwealth.

Organizers of the write-in campaign say they just don’t trust Corbett. One of the main collaborators, Sue Nelms, says the Attorney General lost her support when he called the Constitution a “living document.” She’s also skeptical, because Corbett didn’t deliver a clear answer to the hypothetical question of whether he’d seize Pennsylvanians’ guns, if ordered to d0-so by the president. “If he was governor of our state, I think he would not follow the Constitution,” she says.  “And I think that’s sad.”

Corbett endorsement not a given, says Rohrer camp

State Representative Sam Rohrer isn’t sure whether he’ll endorse Republican nominee Tom Corbett – but Corbett says he’s not worried about securing the support of Rohrer’s conservative backers.

Rohrer’s base of supporters ended up being comparatively small – he garnered 31 percent of the Republican primary vote. But the conservatives, many of them Tea Party and 9-12 Project members, are devoted, and Rohrer say it may take some convincing to get them to vote for Corbett.

Speaking at an Allegheny County polling site on Tuesday, Rohrer said Corbett and the State Republican Party have some fence mending to do.

Rohrer campaign advisor Jeff Coleman says the campaign’s backers have “wide philosophical differences [with Corbett] of some of the more deeply held issues, like the Constitution.” “Those are difficult to reconcile,” he added.

At an Allegheny County Airport press conference this afternoon, Corbett insisted he reached out to conservative activists and grassroots groups throughout the primary. “So we’ve already begun that process. So I would disagree with Mr. Rohrer. I think many of his supporters and many of the independents out there will be coming on board with us.”

Corbett also says he’s also confident he can appeal to the Tea Party voters, while still wooing the state’s moderate independent and Democratic voters.

Cawley goes on offense…against Rohrer

Republican lieutenant governor candidate Jim Cawley is taking sides in the GOP’s gubernatorial primary.

Cawley, the endorsed candidate in the nine-way Republican lieutenant governor primary, took a not-so-veiled shot at state Representative Sam Rohrer during a Tuesday morning interview.

Just an hour before our interview, Cawley told PoliticsPA, “I adopt Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment: Thou shall not speak ill of a fellow Republican. …And I haven’t.”

Cawley has made his support for Attorney General Tom Corbett clear from the beginning of his campaign. The Bucks County commissioner refers to the Attorney General as his “running mate” in a television ad, and has already reserved the domain name When asked to explain why he calls Corbett a “running mate” before either of them have won a contested primary, Cawley said he uses the phrase because both men are the Republican Party’s endorsed candidates.

Cawley also defended himself against attacks he’s too liberal. A recent mailer from Chet Beiler’s campaign charges Cawley with supporting Planned Parenthood and raising taxes. Cawley says that’s not true.

He says some of the attacks are due to the fact he’s from Bucks County.

During the session, Cawley twice ducked the question of whether he thinks Pennsylvania can balance its budget without raising taxes, saying, “I think what we need to do first is figure out where the money is that people are sending us now. Once we’ve identified how money is being spent, where it’s being spent and whether it can be spent better elsewhere, then we can broaden the discussion.” He returned to the topic later on, though, saying, “increasing taxes is not the answer. Period.”

Here’s Cawley’s tv ad:

Gun rally draws GOP candidates

A shaded Metcalfe MCs the 2nd Amendment rally

Pennsylvania’s two Republican candidates for governor stood shoulder-to-shoulder with 2nd Amendment advocates during a pro-gun rally at the state Capitol today.

Several hundred people crowded the Capitol’s front steps for the event. Suzanna Gratia Hupp, a former Texas legislator and the survivor of a mass shooting she says she could have stopped had she been armed, expressed the group’s sentiments during her speech.

Many of the speakers called for the passage of the “castle doctrine” bill – a measure that would reinforce a person’s right to defend his or her home with deadly force, without the obligation of trying to retreat first. After the event, Attorney General Tom Corbett said he couldn’t directly support the legislation without reading it first, arguing there are three different measures before the General Assembly. He did side with its general goal.

State Representative Sam Rohrer backed the measure without qualifications.

The event was MCed by Republican lawmaker  Daryl Metcalfe, who’s running for lieutenant governor.

Rohrer paid Joe the Plumber $4,000 for February appearance

Remember Joe the Plumber? This blog sure does.

Well, Laura Olson of Capitolwire has done some digging through Sam Rohrer’s latest campaign finance report,  and discovered Rohrer paid Joe $4,000 to appear at his February rally, where Joe (aka Samuel J.Wurzelbacher) endorsed the Berks County representative.

Campaign manager Jeff Coleman defends the payment, saying it “was not part of any agreement. …The endorsement was something he offered on his own.”

Coleman notes conservatives like Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee typically request speaking fees, as well.

The $4,000 payment is only slightly less than the amount of money the Rohrer campaign has left in the bank, as of March 29th.

The 9/12ers and Rohrer

Rohrer speaks to voters after the event

Here’s a longer piece I put together on this week’s 9/12 Project candidates’ forum in Jim Thorpe, Carbon County. The focus: every single audience member I talked to came away from the event with a strong impression of State Representative Sam Rohrer.

- – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -

Tea Parties and other conservative grassroots groups are rapidly becoming a major force in Republican politics.

As an indication of the movement’s clout, gubernatorial candidates Tom Corbett and Sam Rohrer trekked out  to Carbon County earlier this week to appear at a forum sponsored by a local 9/12 Project.

Scott Detrow reports.

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.

A few minutes with Joe the Plumber

Joe the Plumber (aka Samuel J.Wurzelbacher) headlined state Representative Sam Rohrer’s Mobilize for Liberty event in Harrisburg today, giving the Berks County lawmaker his support a few hours after Rohrer mustered just a dozen votes in the State Republican Committee’s gubernatorial endorsement meeting.

Joe’s endorsement is apparently quite the coup. He says more than 200 politicians have asked for support this year, but so far, he’s only backed five. “I need to talk to candidates before I endorse,” he told me afterwards, explaining that his bar is pretty high. “We have a series of conversations – 20 to 30 minute conversations – and I grill them. I ask them questions about energy, education – make sure they’re straight.” Wurzelbacher says he also vets candidates online.

So why Rohrer? He says they share many of the same values – the Second Amendment, states’ independence, “integrity, honesty.” Plus, “Sam is really favored amongst the tea parties. It takes a lot for them to get behind an individual.”

Wurzelbacher touched on several different points during his speech, and many of them were surprising. He said he doesn’t support Sarah Palin anymore. Why? Because she’s backing John McCain’s re-election effort. “John McCain is no public servant,” he told the room, calling the 2008 Republican nominee a career politician.

I pointed out he’d just be plain old Sam Wurzelbacher of Ohio — Joe the Plumber wouldn’t exist —  without McCain. His response was blunt. “I don’t owe him s—. He really screwed my life up, is how I look at it.”

Wurzelbacher said, “McCain was trying to use me. I happened to be the face of middle Americans. It was a ploy.”

So why’s he still milking the Joe the Plumber image, appearing at conservative events across the country? Wurzelbacher says it’s his duty to take advantage of the platform he’s been given. He wants to talk up the issues he cares about, and encourage the grassroots tea party movement.

Wurzelbacher also told the room to lay off the extreme personal attacks on President Obama.  He said people who question whether Obama was born in the United States or compare him to Hitler “belittle and set back” the conservative movement.  “The birthers, the truthers — if people are trying to bunch them [with tea partiers], that would kill us. That just pushes away Democrats and independents who might come out for our cause otherwise.” He said he actually likes Obama, in some ways. “I think his ideology is un-American, but he’s one of the more honest politicians. At least he told us what he wanted to do.”

A tale of two ballrooms — update

There are two contrasting events underway at the Harrisburg Hilton right now.

In one ballroom, members of the State Republican Committee are voting to endorse candidates in the Senate, gubernatorial and lieutenant governor primaries. Most are well-dressed. All are what you’d call party insiders – members of county Republican committees, elected officials, major donors.

They’ve just voted overwhelmingly to endorse Tom Corbett’s campaign, with only a dozen of the 348 voters supporting Sam Rohrer.

But a few paces down the hall, a few hundred people in jeans, boots, field jackets and baseball caps are taking part I Rohrer’s “Mobilize for Liberty” rally. Judging by the signs they were holding in the lobby, the majority of them are against an official party endorsement.  “They want to choose for themselves, and don’t like the fact that kingmakers and power brokers…are trying to force people out of the race before petitions are filed,” is how state Representative Daryl Metcalfe put it.

The State Committee meeting began the morning with a roll call vote on whether or not to offer an endorsement. Members voted by overwhelming margins – 300-47, 297-51 and 213-135, in the Senate, gubernatorial and L-G races, respectively – to go ahead and make official selections.

After the balloting was done, Chairman Rob Gleason warned party members to fall in line behind the endorsed candidates. “Rebelling against our party’s decision may sound romantic, but it will hurt the nominee and the party in the long run,” he said.

That didn’t sit well with Jeff Coleman, who’s running Rohrer’s campaign. He called Gleason’s statement condescending, and said it “reflects a real disrespect and level of arrogance against the grassroots members of the party.”

“What happened in Florida,” Coleman warned, referencing the grassroots movement against Governor Charlie Crist’s Senate campaign, “could very well happen in Pennsylvania.”

UPDATE: The Corbett camp is defending the endorsement process, calling it open and democratic. Campaign manager Brian Nutt said, “the state committee members are elected by Republican voters in their particular counties or districts, and that’s who they represent.”

Corbett agreed with Nutt’s assessment, and suggested the people calling for an open primary may be doing so out of confusion. “Now, I think what we have is many new people who’ve become involved who may not have understood that process,” he said. “And they may have voted for these people in the past and not even know it. So what we have is maybe a new group of people becoming involved and interested in elections. But there is a process. We are a nation of rules, we have rules within our party. What you saw there was the rules being followed.”

Republican State Committee Forum=

Good evening. It’s not the Olympic Opening Ceremonies — but Pennsylvania’s Republican State Committee meets tonight and tomorrow to endorse candidates in this spring’s statewide primaries. Gubernatorial and Senate candidates will participate in a forum tonight, and I’ll be live-blogging the events.


8:19 Not too many details about that reform plan from Corbett. He says he’ll fill in the specifics later, but then spoke broadly about making lawmakers accountable for the line-item details of their per-diems.  Both Corbett and Rohrer said Pennsylvania shouldn’t have accepted federal stimulus dollars — though Corbett acknowledged that, in reality, Pennsylvania didn’t really have much say in the matter.

Rohrer knocked Corbett a bit for suggesting CareerLink should be expanded, saying the state doesn’t need any new programs.

From the “a bit off-message” department, State GOP Executive Director Luke Bernstein brushed reporters away from Corbett after two questions, saying something along the lines of, “people paid money to eat dinner with the Attorney General.”

7:52 And…that’s it! A short debate. Off to question the candidates. More updates to come.

7:52 Corbett says he and Rohrer “agree we…must cut the size of this budget.” Praises legislative Republicans for “stopping the governor…last time.” Opines fact state “can’t go back a billion dollars.”

Mentions his two-year budget cycle idea. “It would bring certainty and predictability to the people who do receive state money.” Also mentions Welfare, Education and Corrections. “If we reduce just four percent of the errors ineligibility guidelines we’d save [300+ million] dollars.”

Says he’s do “zero-based budgeting,” to ask each agency to justify its entire budget. “You have to go in with the desire to spend the money carefully.”

7:48 Question 2: What’s your plan to reign in spending? What programs would you cut?

Rohrer — “One thing you can do is this — you can reduce spending across the board.” Rohrer says he’s pledged he will not sign a tax increase bill. “The voters of this state cannot afford a tax increase.”

You have to go where you spend the most money. Welfare, Education and Corrections. “I can guarantee you there are duplicity programs. Things…we must not do and cannot do, and exceed our ability to pay.”

“Saying no to federal money and cutting strings that require us to spend federal money,” another idea, he says.

7:45 Rohrer — people don’t leave the state because they don’t like it here. They leave because there are no jobs, or because the cost of living is too high in Pennsylvania. … Why are there no jobs? Lists “a hostile business climate.” Labor climate — “fact is, more of our business has gone down south because of labor climate,” more than taxes.

Says people can’t afford to live in PA due to property taxes. “They can’t afford to live here, so they go somewhere they can live, and they generally go south.”

“The solution isn’t new programs. Frankly, if we want to reduce spending we’ve got to cut programs.”

7:42 First Youtube question — how would you keep young workers in PA?

Corbett — It’s important to me my kids stayed in Pennsylvania. (They’re in their thirties.) “We need to start looking, back in high school and college — we’re not guiding our students into [tech jobs].” Says workforce development boards could help guide students into these types of careers. “We need to look at CareerLink….we need to expand that to our college students and our high schools who are graduating.”

The most important area is the business tax climate. “We are losing 1 in 4 PAns every year. They are going to places that are competitive, like Texas, Florida….places that have a tax environment that understands business is good, that free enterprise is good.”

7:39 Now it’s Corbett’s turn. “The same message I’ve recieved — Pennsylvania has seen better times, but it’s struggling.”  Mentions decline of “stimulus money we should never have taken in the first place,” pension fund, and other financial issues.

State needs “leadership that brings results, not rhetoric. It’s time to change Harrisburg. We all know that.”

“You know when I made promises as Attorney General, I kept them. I was one of 13 Republican AGs…that told the Congress, do not make exceptions for one state to the detriment of other states” (Referencing Ben Nelson’s Medicaid “Nebraska compromise.”

His agenda? “J-O-B-S.” Fiscal discipline, limited government and free enterprise” would do that, he says.

Corbett says he’ll send a reform plan to the GA during his first week on the job. The package would “eliminate WAMs, reduce the state car fleet, reform per-diems — not just for state legislators, but for all government employees.”

“We can and we must reduce taxes.”

7:20 Rohrer’s opening statement: Washington has failed, and so has the Rendell Administration. Says they’ve left “most monumental challenges” to next governor. “The fact of the matter is, politics as normal is gone…the time that we can lead by polls is passed. The time that we can collectively…deal with issues that are convenient or deal with issues we can deal with in the next two years, before the next election…those days have got to stop.”

…”The Rendell Administration has let this state in very poor economic condition.” Calls PA’s tax structure “unfriendly,” and says state’s regulatory climate needs to change. “Instead of putting road blocks in front of small business, actually befriend them.”

Says employees shouldn’t be forced to join a union or pay union dues.

“We are insolvent. We don’t have enough money to pay our bills.”

If PA doesn’t deal with its budget problem swiftly and firmly, “we are going to be like California.” Says NO to all new taxes…”We have a property tax issue. I have led the fight to eliminate the property tax.” Elimination would be good for small businesses, home owners and farmers. “We can’t sustain the way we fund public education. It’s got to change.”

Calls for school choice — “that’s a moral issue. It’s an educational issue.”

Rendell “puts its hand out” to the federal government “at every turn.” State needs to be more financially independent.

7:25 The gubernatorial forum is about to begin. Each candidate will get one question submitted via Youtube.

7:21 Perry called up to stage to receive the GOP’s Leadership Award (it’s a Reagan bust), as well as a personal letter from former President George W. Bush.   Perry is a a Lt. Colonel in the Pennsylvania National Guard’s 28th Combat Aviation Brigade. Perry piloted helicopters and oversaw logistics during the recent tour in southern Iraq.

7:19 Shout-out for Rep. Scott Perry, who recently returned from Iraq

7:12 Renee Amoore: “Do we believe in diversity? Yes! Do we believe in a big tent? [applause] Do we believe we are inclusive of everybody?”

7:09: Proceedings underway. The MCs are doing their best to pump up the crowd. “We’re going to get this party started!”

7:01: People filing into the ballroom. A big band is jazzing up the room. Sounds like the format will be a four-minute opening statement from each candidate, followed by two rounds of questions.


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