Seventeen months before the Republican U.S. Senate primary and nearly two years before the next general election in Pennsylvania, GOPers in the state are already discussing who their candidate will be against freshman Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr. in 2012.
Discussion of a spirited challenge to Casey has been fueled by a just-completed Quinnipiac University Poll showing only 39 percent of state voters approve of his performance, compared to 29 percent who don’t approve. The same survey showed that Keystone State voters favor him for re-election over an unnamed Republican next year.
Talk was particularly upbeat about a candidate in Lancaster County, one of the most Republican counties in the Keystone State. As Lancaster County GOP Vice Chairman Bonnie Bowman pointed out to HUMAN EVENTS two weeks ago, “We provided the winning margin for [Gov-elect] Tom Corbett and [Sen-elect] Pat Toomey.” Corbett and Toomey led a Republican sweep of Pennsylvania last month, which included the GOP’s capture of the state House of Representatives and a pick-up of five Democrat-held U.S. House seats. Now they are focused on Casey (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 12 percent), who was one of Barack Obama’s earliest backers in the state when most Democrats were lining up behind Hillary Clinton for president in ’08.
“The name I hear most these days is [State Sen.] Jake Corman,” GOP County Chairman Greg Sahd told HUMAN EVENTS, noting that the State College legislator is not up for re-election in 2012 and could thus “run from cover” against Casey. Another state senator who could make the U.S. Senate race, local sources told me, was Kim Ward, who like Corman is considered moderate-to-conservative.
There is also talk of Rep. Jim Gerlach as a Republican Senate hopeful. In 2010, five-termer Gerlach briefly explored the race for governor, then reportedly eyed a Senate primary against Toomey before finally opting to seek re-election. As to whether Gerlach (lifetime ACU rating: 76 percent) would finally “make the plunge” in 2012 after so much exploring but no action this year is uncertain.
The same could be said about Republican Rep. Tim Murphy (lifetime ACU rating: 76 percent), whose name has been floated as a Senate hopeful lately.
“And don’t forget Mike Turzai,” State Rep-elect Ryan Aument said over coffee at the Hamilton Club in Lancaster, “He’s a conservative and a tough guy.” He was referring to the Western Pennsylvania legislator who will shortly become the new majority leader in the state House. Turzai is a stalwart conservative who ran for Congress in the district now held by Democrat Jason Altmire in the 1990s. Where many conservatives have ho-hum feelings about incoming House Speaker Sam Smith, they are gung-ho about Turzai and see him leading the charge on issues ranging from the state’s Medicaid responsibilities to pension reform.
But Turzai’s next move for office is unknown at this time and he is unlikely to make a move until the next session of the legislature adjourns later next year.
“I still wonder why Rick Santorum doesn’t take another shot at it,” Lancaster party activist Ann Womble wondered. Noting that former Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) is seeking a comeback for the seat he lost to Democrat Jim Webb in ’06, Womble said Santorum could do the same against ’06 foe Casey. But all signs point to the former two-term senator and conservative pursuing another goal — the Republican nomination for president in 2012.
All told, it is too early to say who will face Casey in 2012. But if the level of activity and discussion experienced in Lancaster County last week is any barometer, the odds are strong that Republicans will be making an all-out effort for the Senate and are likely to start sizing up candidates soon.