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Lowman S. Henry

Lowman S. Henry

Chairman & CEO
Lincoln Institute
of Public Opinion Research

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Town Hall Commentary

Wolf-Fetterman Shotgun Wedding

by Lowman S. Henry
 

It was a photo op gone seriously wrong.

The meet up between the Governor of Pennsylvania and his newly minted running mate at a York County diner was supposed to be a celebration the new paring. Instead the photo had the aura of an incompatible couple on a blind date. The slightly built, scholarly governor sat passively on one side of the table. On the other side, staring off into the distance with a bored gaze, sat a hulking man who could easily pass for a WWE star.

And so Democrats Tom Wolf and John Fetterman launched the latest in a long string of mismatched tickets for Pennsylvania’s highest offices. Over the decades Democrats in particular have struggled with the unique system used to elect a lieutenant governor. In the primary, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run in separate elections. Then, they are paired together as a ticket in the General Election. Voters cast but one ballot and get both. Thus the electoral fate of each are intertwined.

Republicans have generally handled this political oddity with little difficulty. State Senator Scott Wagner early in the process teamed with Montgomery County businessman Jeff Bartos campaigning together for the GOP nominations which each won handily. As a result, the Republican ticket begins the General Election campaign in sync and fully formed.

Partly as a result of able ticket making the GOP has achieved considerable success in gubernatorial elections despite a statewide voter registration deficit that at times has approached a million voters.

In 1978, tough-on-crime former federal prosecutor Dick Thornburgh teamed with the son of a former governor, William W. Scranton, III to succeed the scandal-scarred administration of Governor Milton Shapp. Eight years later Scranton essentially hand-picked State Senator Mike Fisher to be his running mate. Republicans endorsed and elected Tom Ridge and Mark Schweiker, and later Tom Corbett and Jim Cawley.

But Democrats have more resembled the old comedy troupe the Keystone Kops than a political party in nominating their statewide ticket.

Pittsburgh Mayor Peter Flaherty was nominated for governor in 1978 defeating among others former state Auditor General Robert P. Casey, Sr. Running for lieutenant governor was an Allegheny County biology teacher also named Robert P. Casey. He won the primary, and then proved to be a drag on the ultimately losing ticket.

The “real” Bob Casey ran again, was pared with Cambria County State Senator Mark Singel and won. But the relationship quickly turned sour as Casey remained a strong pro-life Democrat while Singel embraced his party’s pro-abortion orthodoxy. When Single ran for the U.S. Senate, the lack of support from his erstwhile political partner was palpable.

And then there was the awkward paring of Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell with State Treasurer Catherine Baker Knoll. Koll, with high name ID from multiple statewide races won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. But Rendell kept her at arm’s length during their time in office. Likewise, current Governor Tom Wolf has never gotten cozy with Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack.

Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement. Wolf was so aghast at Stack’s antics �" which included allegations he mistreated his staff and state police security detail �" he ordered an investigation. Wolf ultimately revoked Stack’s police detail and made it abundantly clear he did not want him on the 2018 ticket.

The Democrats’ ideal profile as a Wolf running mate was a woman from southeastern, Pennsylvania. But candidates from that region, including Stack, crowded the primary while Fetterman alone hailed from the west. Fetterman triumphed and Tom Wolf got his wish to not have to go into the General Election with Mike Stack as his running mate.

But, Fetterman could be a mixed blessing to the Democratic ticket. He is Harvard educated, smart and personable. But, he also ran with the endorsement of socialist U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and is aligned with a growing socialist movement on the ultra-Left wing fringe of the Democratic Party. With Tom Wolf already labeled the most liberal governor in America by no less an authority than the Huffington Post, the GOP can make the case that the Wolf-Fetterman ticket is well outside the state’s political mainstream.

One thing is certain: as Wolf-Fetterman go up against Wagner-Bartos voters will have a choice in November as clear as the water in one of Penn’s Wood’s many mountain streams.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.