PoliticsPA’s Primary Preview: Here’s what to watch

By Sean Coit and Alex Roarty

The Specter campaign war room in Philadelphia mixes with OFA staffers from the '08 Presidential campaign

This week, political observers across the country will all have their eyes on Pennsylvania, where a slew of primaries and one big, big special election, take place today, (maybe) providing some indication of what’s to come in the 2010 midterm elections.

The big ones you already know. Longtime Senator Arlen Specter will try to hold off challenger Joe Sestak in a race that became neck and neck in its last two weeks. Daily tracking polls show the two men trading single-digit leads, and the winner is anyone’s guess. If Sestak can’t close this one out, supporters will wonder why the campaign waited to hit the airwaves with images of Specter during his decades-long Republican career.

If Sestak is able to pull it off, though, Democrats will be in an awfully uncomfortable position. The Obama administration, Governor Rendell, U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and Mayor Michael Nutter all lined up behind Specter (though the president didn’t come through with the all-important visit).

In southwest Pennsylvania, Democrat Mark Critz and Republican Tim Burns face off in a special election to succeed the late Rep. John Murtha’s in the 12th congressional district. You know the campaign is important when the nation’s major newspapers feature bylines from “Johnstown, Pa.,” and, indeed, its outcome will help set the tone for 2010’s all-important midterms. Outside groups, not to mention the campaigns themselves, have spent millions waging an aggressive on-air ad war.

Murtha’s re-election was rarely in question, but the right-leaning 12th (McCain carried the district in 2008) is hardly a lock for Critz, the longtime Murtha aide. Expect election workers to stay up late counting votes before they declare a winner in this race.

Four Democrats remain in the race for governor, led by Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato. Onorato’s lead has hovered over 20 points, but Philadelphia state Senator Anthony Williams is the wild card – his support for school choice has led to millions and millions in contributions from other proponents, enabling him to instantly get on air statewide. Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel and Auditor General Jack Wagner have each struggled to raise money and are trailing badly in the polls.

Williams, like Specter, will rely on heavy Philadelphia turnout to propel his candidacy, which is far from a guarantee in an off-year primary.

The other side of the aisle features a battle between GOP gubernatorial hopefuls Sam Rohrer and Tom Corbett. Rohrer’s candidacy, while drumming up fervent support among many conservative activists, never attracted attention from a big enough share of the Republican electorate to knock off the heavily favored attorney general. But with the state Republican Party sending out anti-Rohrer mailers late last week, GOP officials must be somewhat concerned about Corbett’s margin of victory. If it dips below 60 percent, expect private grumbling among Republicans later this week.

Here are a few more races we’ll be watching:

GOP Lieutenant Governor’s Race, 9 candidates. Can Bucks County Commissioner Jim Cawley, the man party officials want to win, fend off his eight opponents? And if controversial state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe or Chet Beiler, who was arrested by attorney general agents nearly a decade ago, win, is Corbett’s run for governor crippled out of the gate?

6th District Democratic Primary, Manan Trivedi vs. Doug Pike: Pike, a former Inquirer editorialist, had a big financial edge, but Trivedi had support of many local Democrats. The winner faces a tough task to knock off Republican incumbent Jim Gerlach.

10th District Republican Primary, Tom Marino vs. Malcolm Derk vs. Dave Madeira. The three men trying to take on Democratic incumbent Chris Carney in the fall haven’t raised much money but have engaged in a spirited primary anyway. Will Marino, a former U.S. attorney, survive questions about his relationship with controversial local figure Louis DeNaples, which have dogged him the last month?

4th District Republican Primary, Mary Beth Buchanan vs. Keith Rothfus. A race that was supposed to be an easy victory for Buchanan has turned disastrous for the former U.S. attorney, with campaign missteps opening the door for Rothfus, an Allegheny County attorney, to win. Whichever candidate wins will need to start raising money Wednesday if they want to unseat well-funded Democratic incumbent Jason Altmire.

We’d also be remiss if we didn’t mention that Tuesday could mark the end of the Philadelphia Republican John Perzel’s and Greene County Democrat Bill DeWeese’s illustrious (infamous?) careers. Both former speakers of the House, they each have been charged in “Bonusgate” during the last year and, consequently, face tough primary tests from local foes.

Other races we’ll be keeping an eye on
: 3rd District GOP primary, 17th District GOP primary, 11th District Democratic primary, 8th District GOP primary, Democratic lieutenant governor’s race, U.S. Senate Republican primary.

ALSO – If you’re in Philadelphia next Thursday, be sure to check out Slate’s Political Gabfest, which will take place Friends Center, 1501 Cherry Street, at 7 p.m.

Slate’s Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson, and David Plotz bring their acclaimed weekly political podcast to the Friends Center in downtown Philadelphia, PA for a live performance. They’ll discuss President Obama, the Supreme Court, and the hot political stories of the week, and then wrap it all up with Cocktail Chatter. Afterwards, you will be invited to participate in the dialogue during audience Q&A. Buy your tickets here

May 18th, 2010 | Posted in Front Page Stories | 2 Comments

2 thoughts on “PoliticsPA’s Primary Preview: Here’s what to watch”

  1. Amanda says:

    I am for the Tea Party but c’mon Tom Corbett is the better choice. He has done so much for PA and aligns with Tea Party issues. Tom Corbett is for gun rights and less government. Sam Rohrer’s campaign has jumped on the Tea Party bandwagon for political reasons. He has lied and taken comments out of context. They have said that Tom Corbett’s wife sat on the Planned Parenthood board which is not true. He has played some dirty politics. I am for the Tea Party but not in this case. Choose your battles wisely folks!

  2. Kathleen says:

    The opinions included in this piece represent all that is wrong in politics.

    Sam Rohrer and Daryl Metcalfe may not succeed in overcoming the Party Bosses’ mandates and a complicit media; however, they certainly have – in the words of a Tea Party member – “awakened a sleeping giant.”

    I would be curious to learn how many people voted for Rohrer and Metcalfe (or any of the other non-Party endorsed candidates) for the mere fact they wanted to send a message to the Party that their power-grabbing, dictatorial days are over.

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