In sports, teams that have absolutely no chance of making the play-offs sometimes make the biggest difference simply by playing the contenders. That is what may be happening in the race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination.
Philadelphia businessman Tom Knox, one of the first candidates to enter the race also became one of the first to drop out of it. A multi-millionaire, he was spending his own money in what amounted to a vanity run. He also knows when to walk away from a bad investment. That leaves Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel as the only candidate with a base in the populous southeastern corner of the state, which includes the City of Philadelphia and its suburbs.
Meanwhile, in the Steel City, celebrity &quot;coroner to the stars&quot; Dr. Cyril Wecht says he is going to enter the race. It remains to be seen whether or not he actually does run. If Wecht gets into the contest his candidacy will largely be an effort to rehabilitate his reputation in the wake of a winning battle against federal charges stemming from alleged, but never proven use of county facilities to perform private work while he was Allegheny County Coroner. Wecht's first trial ended in a mis-trial. Last June the U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania dropped the remaining charges. Suffice it to say Wecht is unlikely to pull many votes.
But - and this is a BIG but - Wecht's candidacy will further divide the geographical base of two of the major contenders in the contest: Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and state Auditor General Jack Wagner. Southwestern Pennsylvania is far less populous that southeastern Pennsylvania, so this gives a hefty geographic advantage to Hoeffel.
Several months ago the possibility of a Hoeffel victory was remote. Today, due to the changing dynamics of the race, he has emerged as a top contender. Of course factors other than geography will impact the race. Onorato's hefty lead in fundraising and Jack Wagner being the only contender to have previously won, and currently hold, a statewide office will weigh heavily on the outcome.
The possibility of a Hoeffel primary win must scare the wits out of Democratic strategists. Hoeffel is an ultra-leftist who makes the moveon.org types look like Rush Limbaugh's cousins. The commissioner is pro-abortion, anti-gun, thinks government at both the state and federal levels doesn't spend enough, and favors a radical expansion of government intrusion into our lives. Hoeffel is precisely what the general electorate is rebelling against, as witnessed by the stunning upset of Scott Brown in the Massachusetts U.S. Senate race and last year's gubernatorial elections in Virginia and New Jersey.
But Hoeffel isn't appealing to the general electorate in the primary - he is appealing to party activists. And the base of the Democratic Party is ultra-liberal, even here in Penn's Woods. Thus, geographically and ideologically Hoeffel is in a commanding position to be nominated.
And that would lead his party to a crushing defeat in November's election. Pennsylvania has a history of rejecting ultra-left wing candidates. For years the Democratic Party pulled off the amazing feat of nominating opponents to then-Republican Arlen Specter that made Specter look conservative, or at least middle-of-the-road, by comparison. Think Lynn Yeakel, Bob Edgar and Joe Hoeffel himself six years ago.
This year Specter, now a Democrat, has tacked hard left to compete with Congressman Joe Sestak for liberal votes. Thus, if Hoeffel becomes the Democratic nominee for governor he will be paired on the statewide ticket with Specter or Sestak, either of whom would clearly be the most left-wing candidate for the U.S. Senate to be nominated by a major party in Pennsylvania in recent history. That would create a ticket so leftist even California voters would blush.
Making matters worse for Democrats this is shaping up as a tidal wave election year for Republicans. It won't be hard for the GOP to tie Hoeffel and either Sestak or Specter to everything the public is angry about — health care reform, massive debt, pending tax increases. Both the establishment Republican Party and the TEA party activists will have a field day.
Thus, two bit players — Wecht and Knox - could have an outsized impact on the race for Governor of Pennsylvania one by getting into the race and one by having gotten out.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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