Well back in the corner of the room, far from the bright lights being cast upon the Republican and Democratic races for U.S. Senate and governor nominations, there is another race for statewide office in Pennsylvania.
It has little power and, perhaps, less influence as a position. But the lieutenant governor job has proven to be an indicator of the direction that the party is headed.
And that’s where we find Jeff Coleman and Chris Frye.
Coleman, 46, is a former state representative from Armstrong County. Frye, 33, is the current mayor of New Castle. The pair share a common approach that focuses on voter engagement, not attacking each other. And they are running against each other for the GOP lieutenant governor nomination.
“It helps a lot that we share our perspectives on our faith and our family,” Coleman said to Salena Zito and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Both of us focus a lot on the question of how you grow the Republican Party? And how do you add — not subtract — from a party that needs to grow, and especially in urban areas and places that Republicans haven’t, in many cases, visited in decades.”
Frye said, “Let’s give voters something better than cursing, sarcasm, name calling, that have come to define modern campaigns … It doesn’t have to be this way.”
Can this be the future of conservatism?
“Unfortunately for a lot of elected officials and strategists, they don’t always keep an eye on the people who lost … that is until it’s too late,” said G. Terry Madonna, political affairs expert and senior fellow at Millersville University. “And while no one was looking, they have built a formidable presence with voters that went largely unchecked.”
That was the case with Democratic candidate John Fetterman. The former mayor of Braddock lost in the primary for the U.S. Senate in 2016, but used the defeat as a learning opportunity and won the lieutenant governor spot alongside Tom Wolf in 2018. Now, Fetterman is leading the polls for the Democratic nomination for Pat Toomey’s Senate seat.
“You can’t dispute that people — even in his own party — ignored what Fetterman was doing after he lost that first race, and (he) came back and won the lieutenant governor’s seat,” said Madonna.
Coleman said as lieutenant governor, he’d like to help make the Pennsylvania Senate become “a model for how you could pass conservative pro-family, pro-growth legislation, but doing it in the right way. We could reverse, I think, a trend in politics, which is more bark, less results.”
Frye and Coleman did a 60-second video calling out Doug Mastriano and Teddy Daniels as two trend-setters, in particular.
Frye said: “Instead of debating issues, they’re using slogans and borderline slander to pit one group of conservative Republicans against another, saying one side is right, but implying the rest are somehow enemies of the people. That’s not true.”
It’s a long-game view of Keystone State politics. In a world where candidates are labeled “sellouts,” “career politicians,” and “swamp creatures,” it is a view that could have staying power.