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Dems Buzz Over Potential Paterno Congress Bid

Jay Paterno
Jay Paterno

Jay Paterno, the son of former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, is weighing a challenge to Congressman GT Thompson.

Democrats in Centre County and northern Pa. have buzzed about the possibility for months. Robert Vickers of the Patriot News first reported the potential candidacy on Thursday.

The Patriot News and PoliticsPA were unable to reach Paterno for comment.

The Scranton Times-Tribune reported in July that some anonymous group – possibly the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – conducted a telephone poll of a Paterno-Thompson race.

Since then and even before, local Democrats seized on the possibility.

“I know he’s interested at some point in running for office. But I don’t know if he’d do it this cycle,” said Centre County Democratic Chairman Greg Stewart.

“He would be an awesome candidate. I’ve encouraged him to run for years,” former state Rep. Dan Surra (D-Elk) told PoliticsPA in August.

Rob McCord set the buzz to a fever pitch during a speech at a Centre County Democrats event this month.

“Jay is a smart, capable leader who really wants to help people,” McCord reiterated to the Patriot News through a spokesperson. “I believe he would win that congressional seat and make a great member of Congress. I’d love to see him get in that race.”


PA5 2011 boundaries
PA-5. Source:

The 5th district is the largest in Pa. and comprises mostly rural counties in the northern tier. Its population center is Centre County and State College, which comprise 24.3% of registered voters according to Labels & Lists. Erie County, including areas just outside the Erie city limits, comprises another 16.9%.

The district has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of R+6, meaning the average Republican will defeat the average Democrat by 6 points. That’s a shade more Democratic than it was prior to redistricting.

But Paterno is no average Democrat.

The son of the coaching legend, Jay served as an assistant PSU coach. In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, Jay emerged as a high-profile defender of his father’s legacy.

Joe Paterno remains very popular in the region.

Jay is also a committed Democrat despite the fact that his father was a Republican. His brother Scott ran for Congress in 2004 as a Republican against Tim Holden.

Jay, 45 campaigned for President Obama in 2008 as an officially vetted surrogate.

A bid for Congress may have been on his mind for some time. In an August 2012 column on the website, he elaborated at length about Republican redistricting efforts.

“With data that can be broken down by precinct, street and even by house it is easier than ever to design congressional districts that are safe for one party or the other,” he wrote.

Glenn “GT” Thompson

Ideologically, Rep. Thompson (R-Centre) typically joins House conservatives but sometimes votes with the moderates. For example, he voted to end the government shutdown earlier this month.

A nursing home operator by trade, he is generally well regarded in the district. He won election in 2008, his most competitive general election campaign to date, by 16 points.

Under virtually any other circumstances, he would be considered a rock-solid, safe pick for re-election. But Democrats hope a Paterno on the ballot would put in play a district that has been off the table for decades.

“Not since the mid-80s has the DCCC played in this district,” said one experienced Centre County politico.

9 Responses

  1. There is a PA Congressman named Thompson? Never heard of him. Amazing what gerrymandering can do.

  2. In a Presidential year, the Dem Performance will be significantly higher. Don’t forget McCain only got 51.5% in the new 5th district.

  3. Nardi, they added Eastern Erie County to pull out some of the Dems from Kelly’s seat. (Not that Eastern Erie County is THAT Democratic, but it certainly is compared to a number of other parts of the district.) Also President Obama actually won Elk County in 2008 (and it was once a strong union area) so it isn’t out of the realm of possibility. I say he goes for it.

  4. Well, a Dem won the seat as recently as 1976 and lasted a single term–those are odds on which I’d risk squandering the Paterno legacy, especially for the glory of defending Obama in rural Pennsylvania next year.

  5. This would be an interesting development. Unpopular Corbett leading the ticket, Paterno in the race puts Centre, Clinton, Clearfield, Elk and northern Huntington in play and with Thompson never having run in the western part of Warren county and the eastern part of Erie county, the Paterno name is probably better known there than Thompson’s. Besides that, Thompson’s record has been unremarkable at best.

  6. As far as Republicans — or even PA Republicans — go, GT is one of the good ones. Disappointing that American politics has turned into eating up and churning through some of the good guys while the loonies sit back in their R+18 or D+22 districts and throw bombs and don’t give a @#$% about their actions.

  7. R+6 is in no way unreachable, and while I knew the central districts got more blue to make the SEPA districts more red, I didn’t know it was to this degree.

    If this is going to be a year where Democrats are making a play at the house, R+6 districts have to be on the table.

    I always figured all of the Paternos were Republicans…

  8. Nice to here some buzz about good, democratic congressional challengers…cause in DELCO’s 7th CD, party leaders have given us NOTHING and it looks like Pat Meehan, one of the most vulnerable, will be getting a pass just like he did in 2012.

  • Understanding that basic education funding should/will be first, what should be the next highest priority for the General Assembly?

    • Raising The Minimum Wage (25%)
    • Legalizing Adult-Use Marijuana (24%)
    • None of the above. Something Else. (20%)
    • Economic Development (14%)
    • Higher Education (8%)
    • Public Transportation (8%)
    • Workforce Opportunities and Innovation (2%)

    Total Voters: 51

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