By Alex Roarty
In an interview with PoliticsPA on Wednesday, third-party candidate Jim Schneller, whose placement on the ballot in the 7th District congressional race between Democrat Bryan Lentz and Republican Pat Meehan has sparked a major controversy, initially said he didn’t think Democrats allied with Lentz’s campaign helped him circulate petitions to hurt Meehan’s campaign.
But when presented with evidence of Lentz’s involvement, Schneller conceded the situation did at least appear inappropriate while professing he was not fully aware of who was helping him collect signatures.
Schneller, who says he is not a tea party candidate though he sympathizes with many of its members’ views, has the potential to play spoiler in the race between Lentz and Meehan. The matchup between the two men, each trying to succeed outgoing Democratic incumbent Joe Sestak, is perhaps the highest-profile congressional race in the state.
Schneller would seem to be positioned to siphon votes from Meehan, the race’s early favorite, and give Lentz an easier path to victory than a head-to-head matchup against the Republican. It’s why the Republican’s campaign is crying foul over the involvement of several Lentz allies, including former campaign workers, and accusing the Democrat of playing dirty politics to boost his underdog campaign.
When first asked of the accusations, the independent candidate and former small business owner called the implication he was on the ballot only because of Lentz’s help an attempt to discredit his candidacy.
“I’m concerned about these rumors that claim that it was some kind of intentional or colluding confluence of efforts here,” Schneller said. “I have to remind people, it’s the country in which so many people have been used to a two-party system. When I gather volunteers, they’re going to be from one party or another.”
The rumors, he said, stem from concern among both Republicans and Democrats that a third-party candidate threatens their supremacy.
“The two parties are concerned and have for decades gone after every independent possible with every type of campaign mechanism,” he said. “And I’m happy I’ve gotten this early volley, and I just tell Pennsylvania voters to wait and see.”
But when presented with evidence supplied by the Meehan campaign drawing the connection between him and Lentz, Schneller began conceding that, at minimum, the situation didn’t look good. Specifically, Meehan’s campaign has said Colleen Guiney, chair of the Swarthmore Democratic Party, helped him collect signatures. The Republican said in a press release that at one event, Lentz called her “the hardest worker on my campaign.”
Told this, Schneller replied: “That’s dreadful. I regret that there might be some appearance of badness either to me or to the Democrats. It’s the kind of thing that shouldn’t happen.”
The candidate has said he met Guiney a “few times,” at friends’ houses and what he called conservative events.
The candidate emphasized several times that he did not know everyone who was circulating petitions on his behalf. He also hasn’t had a chance to review all of the evidence provided by Meehan after riding back from Harrisburg on a bicycle Tuesday and dealing with a flurry of media calls Wednesday.
“You probably know better than me,” he said. “I can barely keep up with press calls at this point.”
The Lentz campaign has declined to comment on whether it aided Schneller’s effort to get on the ballot, directing all questions to the third-party candidate’s campaign.
Schneller collected nearly double the 4,200 required signatures to be placed on the ballot, making a possible court challenge to his placement potentially difficult. The Meehan campaign has said it is still reviewing whether they will attempt one.
Regardless, it’s clear that despite early descriptions of him as a tea party candidate, Schneller does not fit neatly into that ideological box. For one, he is part of the self-named “American Continental Congress” party, which he said he conceived of because the Department of State mandates candidates name their party when submitting petitions. He describes himself as a pure “independent” beholden to no party, although part of his platform does align with views expressed by tea party members.
“I agree with the tea party because they believe the Constitution is the found of our country, and I believe they have shown our political leaders that they can’t just steamroll us with a lack of transparency in government process and overall authoritarianism,” Schneller said. “We were not born as a monarchy.”
But he also emphasized he was “pro-environment” and said a major part of his platform is forcing Congress to declare war before invading another country. He also supports a draw-down of American troops in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
“This stringing along for a peace-keeping force is a bit much for parents and soldiers,” he said.
And although he rejects the label “birther,” Schneller has major questions over whether President Obama was born in the United States. He has filed a motion with the State Supreme Court challenging Obama’s right to be president.
“It became obvious from the Internet that our future president and a man I had admired … (wasn’t answering questions about his birth certificate),” he said. “The balloon deflated completely, because he didn’t get on the Internet and provide proof.”