The sudden resignation of Val DiGiorgio has triggered an open fight for the mantle of the PA Republican Party that pits President Trump’s team against longtime party stalwarts.
Whether it will turn into a repeat of the divisiveness of the 2017 chair race remains to be seen, but it complicates the party leadership picture in a state that Trump must keep in his column to win re-election.
President Trump’s allies are backing Bernie Comfort, the former vice chair and Acting Chair of the PAGOP. Donald Trump Jr, Trump 2020 campaign manager Brad Pascale, Trump 2016 Pennsylvania campaign senior advisor David Urban, Trump 2020 PA senior advisor Ted Christian, Trump 2016 campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, and former U.S. Press Secretary Sean Spicer weighed in on Twitter over the past week endorsing the campaign of Comfort. Former Reps. Lou Barletta (R-Luzerne) and Tom Marino (R-Lycoming), who co-chaired Trump’s 2016 campaign in Pennsylvania and were two of Trump’s earliest supporters in Congress, also shot out an email to state committee members pledging their support.
Comfort, a Lehigh County GOP member, boasted about having the support of members of the Trump campaign in an email to state committee members on Monday.
“I’m proud to have the support of many leaders like you across the Commonwealth,” Comfort writes in the email. “Most of all, I’m proud to have been endorsed by President Trump’s campaign.”
For more than a decade, Comfort also led the Anne B. Anstine program, which was the party’s respected and successful program to recruit and train women to be candidates and operatives. This is seen as an asset for her in the race for chair.
Typically a presidential nod would be the end of the discussion. Not so fast, says former PAGOP Chair Rob Gleason, who is supporting the candidacy of former PA GOP counsel, Lawrence Tabas.
Despite the endorsements from various Trump allies, Gleason believes Tabas is in it for the duration and will still win the race.
“He’s in for the duration,” Gleason said. “I don’t know why those people or why those endorsements are doing that. This has nothing to do with the President, or the Presidential election, this has to do with the leadership of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania.”
Gleason said to PoliticsPA that he’s a bit “mystified” by the endorsements coming from various GOP members outside of the state, but believes it won’t have too much of an impact on the race.
“It’s hard to tell, but I wouldn’t think so,” Gleason said of the endorsements in the race. “You know what Tip O’Neil said, ‘All politics is local.’”
Gleason backed Tabas’s bid in 2017, was a frequent DiGiorgio critic, and said Tabas is best suited to boost funds and lead the party.
Despite support for Tabas, Gleason said he plans to support whoever the GOP Chair will be at the completion of the race.
“At the end of the day, no matter who wins, I’m going to be supportive of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania,” Gleason said. “But right now, it’s ok, this is America, it’s ok to compete for this seat and I think we should just let it play out.”
One factor in favor of a smoother race is the relative lack of animosity between Comfort and Tabas compared to Tabas and DiGiorgio.
But that doesn’t end the potential for party infighting.
Comfort emailed state committee members Monday to call out a committee member from Lawrence County.
“It’s simply false that I had any advance notice of the situation concerning Val DiGiorgio or the staffer personnel issue being referenced. Anyone who says otherwise is lying,” Comfort wrote. The allegation, “suggests that I ignored the concerns of a female staffer. The issue Lynne Ryan refers to was handled by the former chairman privately, without telling me about it. I was not included in any conversations regarding this matter.”
Meanwhile Scott Wagner, 2018 PA GOP Gubernatorial candidate, bashed Bob Asher, an early supporter of Comfort, in an email on Friday to state committee members.
“I am very concerned, as I am sure you are also,” Wagner writes in the email. “The State Chairman election two years ago was bloody and had many casualties, and as a result many good people resigned from state committee.”
Wagner accused Asher of undermining his campaign against Gov. Tom Wolf and believes he should stay out of the race for the good of the party.
“Mr. Asher’s politics have left our party bitterly fractured and highly dysfunctional,” Wagner writes in the email. “His politics have sidelined good people, and left many others disillusioned and disenchanted. Because of his politics we have a political machine that lines the pockets of Harrisburg political consultants, but delivers loss after loss to the Republican Party.”
“The last thing we need right now are more of Bob Asher’s politics. Bob Asher needs to keep his nose out of the election of a new party chairman,” Wagner writes.
PoliticsPA is seeking comment from Wagner.
Disclaimer: David Urban is part of PoliticsPA’s ownership group.
This story was updated to correct that Comfort was from Lehigh County and the spelling of Anne B. Anstine. This story was also updated to include that Corey Lewandowski has endorsed Comfort as well.