Pennsylvania's 15th C.D. Looks Competitive
GOP likes its prospects in Massachusetts governor's race
By Stuart Rothenberg
Pennsylvania 15 Cong. Paul McHale's decision not to seek re-election in Pennsylvania's 15th C.D. was just the sort of news Democrats didn't want to hear. After all, GOP retirements had given Democrats great opportunities in Nevada, Washington and Wisconsin, and the retirement of the three-term Democrat could only complicate their efforts to retake the House of Representatives.
The district includes Lehigh and Northampton counties in eastern Pennsylvania, with a small slice of Montgomery County rounding out the population. Three major towns are included in the district: Bethlehem and Easton in Northampton County, and Allentown in Lehigh County. The district's electorate is 47 percent Democratic and 42 percent Republican, and Bill Clinton carried it narrowly over George Bush in 1992 (46-41 percent) and over Bob Dole in 1996 (41-37 percent). But Republican Don Ritter held the seat before McHale, and the district is very competitive.
It's early in the jockeying for position for the race, but a flood of Republicans has already entered the contest, while the fight for the Democratic nomination is likely to be a less-crowded affair.
On the GOP side, the early front-runners are state Sen. Joe Uliana, '96 nominee Bob Kilbanks and businessman Pat Toomey.
Uliana, just 32, served two terms in the state House before being elected to the Senate in 1994. He raised almost $280,000 in his state Senate race and last cycle chaired the GOP Senate campaign committee. A conservative who is pro-life and gets high marks from the National Rifle Association, he is critical of NAFTA and has voted from time to time with organized labor. Pollsters Jim McLaughlin and Wes Anderson of Fabrizio-McLaughlin have been retained.
Kilbanks, who spent $263,000 and drew 41 percent against McHale last year, has been running for months. He has already hired Ralph Reed as a consultant and is widely regarded as having roots in the Christian conservative community.
Pat Toomey is a wealthy businessman who owns a number of restaurants in the district. Local observers call him good-looking and impressive as a candidate, and he should be able to put personal money into the race. He is widely regarded as the "moderate" in the race.
At least three other Republicans are currently in the race, including Lawrence Grello, an engineer, Joseph Pascuzzo, a doctor, and Nick Sabatine, an attorney who previously ran the state's Reform Party.
Lehigh County Executive Jane Baker reportedly is considering the race, but she has not yet made a final decision. She is generally portrayed more as a "moderate" and would immediately become one of the strongest contenders if she enters.
Insiders believe that Kilbanks' previous race makes him immediately credible, but the contest ultimately could boil down to Toomey's money, personal appeal and early activity against Uliana's energy, generally conservative views and state Senate base.
On the Democratic side, Northampton County district attorney John Morganelli disappointed local party insiders by announcing he wouldn't run. Two names currently receive the most mention: state Sen. Roy Afflerbach and Janice McElroy.
Afflerbach, 52, is from Allentown and reportedly is considering the race seriously. He has a political base and is generally regarded as the clear front-runner for his party's nomination. The state senator is well-known in the area and is generally regarded as moderate-to-liberal. McElroy is a former director of the state's commission on women.
The general election looks to be extremely competitive at this time.
GOP optimistic about Mass. governor's race
Republicans suddenly have some pretty good reasons to be optimistic about holding the Massachusetts governorship next year, even though William Weld will no longer be carrying the GOP banner.
A year ago, the Republican hold on the office seemed much weaker, with Cong. Joe Kennedy (D) ready to make a run and the GOP likely to face a bitter primary between Paul Celucci, then the sitting lieutenant governor, and Joe Malone, the state treasurer.
But Kennedy's withdrawal following his personal problems and Weld's early exit to try to get confirmed as ambassador to Mexico have changed the political landscape.
Celucci has strong poll numbers, and insiders say that it will be increasingly difficult for Malone to overtake him if the new governor makes no major mistakes. Still, Malone is the more conservative candidate, and that gives him an unshakable base of support.
On the Democratic side, Attorney General Scott Harshbarger remains the front-runner, but he faces primary opponents Ray Flynn and Patricia McGovern. Flynn, a former mayor of Boston, is widely viewed as carrying too much baggage, but McGovern is regarded by insiders as having the potential to catch fire. Her early fund-raising, however, has not met expectations.
This gubernatorial race could be competitive next year, but the Republicans now look far better positioned in that race than they could have hoped for at the beginning of this year.
Pennsylvania's 15th C.D. Looks Competitive (12/09/97)
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