By Keegan Gibson, Managing Editor
“I have been approached by a number of people about the possibility of running for U.S. Senate,” Pileggi said in a statement relayed by a spokesperson.
“I’m flattered by the question, and I have deep concerns about the direction our nation is taking in many areas, including historically high levels of unemployment, the spiraling national debt, and the federal government’s attempt to take over health care. I have made no decision but will continue to listen on how I can best serve the Commonwealth and the Country.”
Multiple D.C. sources say Pileggi has already met with national Republicans to discuss a bid, along with party leaders in Harrisburg and southeast Pennsylvania.
Pileggi entered the national spotlight this fall when he made public a proposal to change the way Pa.’s electoral college votes are allotted — from the current winner-take-all system to one that awards votes by congressional district. The plan earned cries of election-rigging from Democrats in Pennsylvania and across the country and its momentum has fizzled in recent weeks.
Prior to entering the legislature, Pileggi, 53, served as Mayor of Chester. He won a 2002 special election to replace the late Senator Clarence Bell, and took over as majority leader of the chamber in 2007.
Pileggi would join a crowded field, but one that some GOP insiders worry is insufficient to take on Casey. Despite half a dozen candidates already tossing their hats in the ring, State Party Chairman Rob Gleason expressed his desire to see a member of Pa.’s congressional delegation enter the race – even after it was clear none of them were going to bite. Only one of Pileggi’s would-be Republican opponents — former state Rep. Sam Rohrer of Berks County — has ever won a campaign or held elected office.
Pileggi’s decision to enter likely hinges on the ability of the state party to make way for his nomination, which happened for Gov. Tom Corbett in 2009 and 2010 when party insiders effectively delivered him the gubernatorial nomination by drying up campaign contributions to Rep. Jim Gerlach and Pat Meehan. Even without a concerted effort, it’s unlikely that major GOP donors would contribute to opponents of one of the most powerful men in Harrisburg.
But that would be no sure bet for Pileggi: several current candidates are independently wealthy and have said that they are prepared to invest in their campaign. Coal industry veteran Tom Smith, of Armstrong County, has already loaned his campaign $750,000 – an amount that a source close to him called “a small down payment.”
Tim Burns, a businessman and former congressional candidate from Washington County, and Steve Welch, an entrepreneur and former congressional candidate from Chester County, each have a net worth in the millions and have, at times, been bullish about their willingness to use it.
Pileggi’s climb would be even rockier since most of the high-level operatives and consultants from 2010 have already found work with one of the current candidates.
Nonetheless, Pileggi does have a window to the nomination. In a crowded field, party backing can have significant impact. He’d be one of just two candidates from voter-rich southeast Pa. and the only candidate who currently holds elected office.
At the the very least, Pileggi’s interest in the race shows just how wide open the race to face Casey really is.
Casey’s approval numbers, while not stellar, have been steadily positive since he took office (40 to 34 percent in the latest PPP survey). He has over $3.75 million cash on hand, and his seat has slowly moved from tossup, to lean Democratic, to safe Democratic according to national observers.