Democrat Bob Casey Jr., who took down Rick Santorum in 2006, is up for re-election in the fall. But first he’ll have to beat back a challenge in the primary from Pittsburgh-area springs-and-wire forms manufacturer and political neophyte Joe Vodvarka, the self-described “Democratic underdog that nobody wants you to hear about.” Vodvarka, 68, wants to bring manufacturing jobs back to America, overhaul the tax code and repeal Obamacare. His message might resonate with parts of the state, but we suspect Casey will emerge from this fight with barely any scratches.
Meanwhile, there’s a more competitive and entertaining five-way race on the Republican side to determine who’ll take on Casey in the fall. Chester County businessman Steve Welch, who’s garnered the endorsement of Gov. Corbett and the state’s Republican Party, opposes Obamacare, abortion, gay marriage and “job-killing regulations,” and is an ardent supporter of gun rights, school choice and term limits. He’s also a Republican-turned-Democrat-turned-Republican-again who voted for Obama in 2008, something his chief rival, former coal company executive Tom Smith, delights in informing voters. Ironically enough, Smith himself was a Democrat all his life before switching to the GOP last year, though he claims he’s been a “life-long conservative.” Of late a Tea Partier, Smith is pro-life, pro-gun, pro-Marcellus Shale drilling, and way against what he calls the “Obama-Casey tax increases.” Still, both men’s conservative credentials pale next to Sam Rohrer, the Santorum-esque activist-politician and former nine-term state representative whose website prominently features an endorsement from ultra-rightie Michele Bachmann. Smith has been killing Rohrer in TV spots for voting to give himself a pay raise back in 2005, and with far less of a campaign war chest than Welch or Smith, Rohrer’s struggled to fight back. Field-rounder-outers David Christian—a Bucks County businessman and decorated Vietnam vet—and Pittsburgh-area lawyer Marc Scaringi would each need a miracle to pull off a victory.
Pennsylvania House of Representatives, 197th District
From hot dog vendor to Pennsylvania state senator to ex-con to Philly mayoral challenger to ... Harrisburg again? It could happen, if ever-tenacious 72-year-old Milton Street claims victory in this odd race to fill the state House seat—encompassing a wide swath of North Philly—which Jewell Williams vacated last year to successfully run for Philadelphia sheriff. Street hopes to head back to Harrisburg to fight Gov. Corbett’s deep cuts to social services, which would severely impact the struggling 197th. Here’s the rub: Street, Democratic ward leader Gary Williams (a former aide to then-Councilman Darrell Clarke) and Republican Steve Crum are vying in a special election to complete the last six months of Jewell Williams’ term. Simultaneously, the actual primary election battle over who will take over the seat in 2013 pits Jewel Williams—daughter of Jewell Williams and no relation to Gary Williams, who was booted off the primary ballot because of petition issues—against J.P. Miranda (a former spokesman for state Sen. Shirley Kitchen who’s focused on gun and youth violence issues) and Kenneth T. Walker Jr., a former schoolteacher who pledges to help strengthen Philly’s public schools and create more youth programs. Whoever wins will take on Crum—who in addition to running in the special election is running unopposed in the regular primary—in November. Whew.
The hottest race in the city for a seat in the state Legislature is going down in the 182nd District, which comprises a chunk of Center City, Logan Square and sections of Fairmount, Washington Square West, Bella Vista, Gray’s Ferry and—where the campaign rhetoric is at its most intense—the Gayborhood.
Everyone remembers the photo from 2006, when Rick Santorum had to stand up and acknowledge he’d been voted out of the U.S. Senate by the people of Pennsylvania. While Santorum spoke, his 8-year-old daughter Sarah Maria stood next to him, her chubby cheeks soaked with tears. It was the picture of the end of the Republican Revolution that, for a decade, had ruled Congress, and thus Washington, and thus America.
Heading into November, yet another formidable Republican—no-nonsense Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed, who’s running unopposed in next week’s primary—will try to make mincemeat out of either Kathleen Kane or Patrick Murphy, the two Democrats sparring fiercely in a primary bout to determine who’ll carry their party’s flag in the AG race this fall.