Party Time!

Bob Casey Vulnerable in ’12?

Lancaster, Pa.—Seventeen months before the 2012 Republican U.S. Senate primary in Pennsylvania and nearly two years before the next general election, GOPers in the state are already discussing who their candidate will be against freshman Democratic Sen. Bob Casey Jr.

The talk of a spirited 2012 challenge to Casey has been fueled by a just-completed Quinnipiac University Poll showing only 39% of state voters approve of his performance, while 29% don’t. The same survey showed that Keystone State voters favor him for re-election over an unnamed Republican next year by a relatively narrow 43% to 35%.

Discussion of a candidate was particularly upbeat in Lancaster County, one of the most Republican counties in the Keystone State. As Lancaster County GOP Vice Chairman Bonnie Bowman pointed out to me: “We provided the winning margin for [Gov.-elect] Tom Corbett and [Sen.-elect] Pat Toomey.” In November, Corbett and Toomey led a Republican sweep of Pennsylvania that 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%), who was one of Barack Obama’s earliest backers in the state in ’08, when most Democrats were lining up behind Hillary Clinton for President.

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 possibility. 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. Many wonder whether Gerlach (lifetime ACU rating: 76%) would finally “make the plunge” in 2012 after so much exploring but no action this year.

The same could be said about Republican Rep. Tim Murphy (lifetime ACU rating: 76%), 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. While 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 and he is unlikely to make a move until the next session of the legislature adjourns later next year.

What About Santorum?

“I still wonder why Rick Santorum doesn’t take another shot at it,” Lancaster party activist Ann Womble said. Noting that former Sen. George Allen (R.-Va.) is seeking to retake the seat he lost to Democrat Jim Webb in ’06, Womble said Santorum could do the same against ’06 foe Casey. But the former two-term senator and conservative is pursuing another goal: the Republican nomination for President in 2012.

So, it is too early to say who will face Casey in 2012. But if the level of activity and discussion in Lancaster County is any barometer, the odds are strong that Republicans will be making an all-out effort to take his Senate seat and are likely to start sizing up candidates soon.

After Haley

Jackson, Miss.—The biggest political story in the Magnolia State these days is, of course, whether Gov. Haley Barbour will seek the Republican nomination for President in 2012.

But, as I found out during my visit to the conservative Mississippi Center for Public Policy in December, the question of who succeeds the “termed out” Barbour as governor in 2011 is a close second as a subject of political talk.

As Mississippi moves increasingly into the Republican column, most eyes are on the GOP primary next May and on Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant. A onetime insurance fraud investigator who previously served as state legislator and then state auditor, the 56-year-old Bryant has been a principal mover and shaker behind fellow conservative Barbour’s agenda. Moreover, he has made scores of visits over the past four years to the 15 counties that produce the bulk of GOP primary voters.

Noting how familiar Bryant is in Republican territory, one Jackson GOP activist told me: “A race against Phil would be like throwing yourself on a hand grenade.”

But another Republican who has indicated he might be willing to do that is Dave Dennis, Gulfport construction company owner and a former governor of the Federal Reserve Bank in New Orleans. Like Florida Gov.-elect Rick Scott (a first-time candidate who won nomination over an established office-holder by using his own wealth), Dennis has signaled he is willing to spend as much as $3 million of his money on a primary bid that will emphasize his business expertise.

The likely Democratic primary is indicative of what is happening in Southern States as conservative “Blue Dogs” increasingly bolt to the GOP. Four decades after Charles Evers became the first-ever black man to run for governor of Mississippi, the front-running Democratic hopeful is Hattiesburg Mayor Johnny DuPres, who is African-American and considered moderate. His leading opponent is Clarksdale lawyer Bill Luckett, who is white and openly liberal.

In Bob Dylan’s words, “The times-they are a’ changing”—at least in Mississippi.

Party Time

As the Republican National Committee prepares for its Winter meeting next month facing a heated race for the national chairmanship, state parties continue to change their own chairmen.

In three states last month, Republican party organizations elected new chairmen. In a fourth state, New Hampshire, former Gov. (1982-88) and onetime White House Chief of Staff John Sununu resigned the party chairmanship. But The contest for his successor will be decided next month. In Arizona, Republicans will also choose a new chairman next month because conservative Randy Pullen chose not to seek re-election as to the party post after he failed to win a spot on the state GOP committee.

Maryland: In a stunning upset, outgoing State Sen. Alex Mooney, a conservative swashbuckler won the party chairmanship over Mary Kane, a centrist who was the 2010 nominee. The son of a Cuban immigrant, Mooney was defeated for re-election in his Frederick district in November. But, in choosing a chairman, the 265-member GOP State Central Committee elected Mooney—who vowed to rebuild the party’s grass-roots while maintaining its principles.

North Dakota: With the retirement of State GOP Chairman Gary Emineth, Roughrider State Republicans last week elected Wahpeton farmer and State Vice-Chairman Stan Stein to the party helm. Like his leading opponent, party Treasurer Robert Harms, and like Emineth, Stein is considered a strong conservative.

Indiana: While the departure of State Republican Chairman Murray Clark was a surprise to Hoosier State GOP activists, the choice of his successor was not. As expected, the new state Republican chairman is Eric Holcomb, a moderate-conservative and longtime campaign operative for Gov. Mitch Daniels.