These are the 14 men and women who make Pennsylvania politics happen at the most important level.
There are a wide variety of skill sets represented by the men and women below. They are fundraisers, activist leaders, candidate recruiters, strong managers, local politicos, and statewide powers. The best of them are all six.
Not surprisingly, the best GOP chairs are in the southwest part of the state, while Democrats are strongest in the southeast. It’s also little surprise that Bucks and Chester, two of the most competitive counties in the state, both have party chair from each party who made this list.
A few notes: we decided not to include the two PA state party chairs, not because they don’t each deserve to make the list (they do), but because it would be too obvious and the aim is to highlight local players. Additionally, we tried to look at where each chair is positioning his or her county for the long run, not looking solely at 2010 or 2008 results. Names are listed alphabetically by party.
The Best Republican Chairs
Mike Baker, Armstrong County
Insiders know they can count on Baker to do the work and deliver the votes. A businessman with not discernable political aspirations beyond county chairman, Baker is that rare person in politics who works more than he talks about working. His county performed well in 2010, but also did well in 2008 and 2006.
Skip Brion, Chester County
He’s established himself as a statewide leader as a member of PA GOP Leadership and State Party Treasurer, where he consistently raises over $600k a year for the party. While many county parties suffer factionalism and infighting, Brion has helped to keep the ChesCo GOP unified – even with several Tea Party groups.
Terry Casey, Luzerne County
Casey has the distinction of the most bipartisan recommendations for this list. He’s brought fundraising prowess and organization to a committee in disarray, and made the Luzerne GOP a major player in PA politics. We said we wouldn’t focus on 2010 outcomes for this list, but we have to make an exception here. If PA was the GOP’s best state in 2010, Luzerne was PA’s best county. Under Casey’s leadership, the GOP elected home towner Lou Barletta, beat Chris Carney, and sweetest of all, knocked off PA Dems’ Majority Leader Todd Eachus.
Harry Fawkes, Bucks County
The legendary longtime County Chair manages to win in the hotly contested Philadelphia suburbs, and is one of the reasons that Bucks County GOP candidates have avoided the path of their neighbors in MontCo. Fawkes is a statewide power player with prominent roles in the careers of Gov. Mark Schweiker and now Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley.
Elaine Gowaty, Westmoreland County
If Republicans want to continue their growth in southwest PA, they’re going to need local leaders like Gowaty. She is hands-on and involved with every aspect of the party, from candidate recruitment to volunteer recruitment. Her fundraising efforts have yielded a salaried, full time executive director for the party. While Westmoreland Dems relax and enjoy their 50-year supremacy, Gowaty is working hard to bring it to an end.
Jim Roddey, Allegheny County
Probably the most heavy-hitting GOP Chair in the state, Roddey is a major player. Fundraising, candidate recruitment, insider politics, everything – Roddey is one of the most influential voices in the PA GOP. At the same time, he attends most local GOP events and consistently raises money for local candidates.
Joe Sterns, Schuylkill County
Here’s the kind of up-and-comer that Republicans need: the sense of an establishment veteran and credibility with tea party activists. Sterns opened up the historically closed (and moribund) Schuylkill committee, and activists rewarded him for it with countless hours of volunteering. He’s the PA GOP’s most successful chair person affiliated with the tea party.
The Best Democratic Chairs
Bob Brady, Philadelphia County
Practically every important state party decision runs through him, and it’s no secret why. Brady has managed to keep relatively tight control of the largest political juggernaut in Pennsylvania (while dealing with constant internal conflict). Despite occasional turnout issues, Brady still delivers high margins for his candidates.
John Cordisco, Bucks County
“Handsome John” Cordisco is a talented local chairman, but he really shines on the statewide scene. Cordisco has influence over a great deal of the state committee, demonstrated by Kathryn Boockvar’s strong endorsement there. He’s also a powerful fundraiser, a skill that will come in handy in 2011 as Bucks County is ground zero in the statewide Commonwealth Court race and looks to have a competitive election for County Commissioner.
Fred Lebder, Fayette County
Lebder is a veteran of local politics who consistently delivers, votes, money and party infrastructure for federal, state, county and local politicians. He has the ear of just about every official in the region.
Marcel Groen, Montgomery County
Groen has spent two decades turning Montco, formerly a gem of the PA GOP, into a solid blue county. A statewide and even national political power player with solid fundraising chops, he has tight control over one of the largest Democratic operations in the Commonwealth. Groen’s ouster of incumbent Commissioner Joe Hoeffel demonstrated that he the muscle to put his vision into practice.
Bob Kefauver, York County
Kefauver is the chair of a tough county for Democrats, but he has the dedication and serious approach that it will take to make his party much more competitive in the coming years. Simply put, he’s a hard worker with a vision. And redistricting will likely bring another Dem-friendly state house district around the city of York.
Greg Stewart, Centre County
Centre County is a major area of growth for PA Dems, and now they have a county chairman who is ready to capitalize. Stewart is organized and working to take advantage of State College’s potential for Democratic activism. On top of that, he’s getting serious about Centre Dems’ previously lackadaisical fundraising efforts.
Michele Vaughn, Chester County
For decades, Chester County was beyond the reach of Democrats. That changed with fundraising and activist efforts under Vaughn. Hands-on and skilled with volunteer and candidate recruitment, Vaughn is a strong contributor to the recent Democratic takeover of SEPA. Despite Dems’ setbacks in 2010, it is clear that Chester will be a swing county for a long time – and will never be as solidly red as it was before Vaughn took over.