Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Party's Not Over; Everyone's Just Chilling Out

The Trib ran an article yesterday that might well have been titled "The Allegheny County Republican Party SUCKS". After one read through I had to go back and see if my perceptions were accurate -- yep, everyone quoted is a Republican. None of the criticism came from the other side.

The timeline at the side of the article shows why the local Republicans had reason to be optimistic just a few years ago. An upset victory in the 1995 County Commissioners' race, followed by Jim Roddey election as the first County Executive four years later, indicated that the party was about to emerge from the abyss it had fallen into over fifty years earlier.

The national party seemed to fall into a slump back in 1991 when, following the death of Senator John Heinz, a relatively unknown Democrat named Harris Wofford defeated former Governor Dick Thornburgh in a special election. Democrats were energized and Republicans were demoralized; for some reason, the outcome of one election in one of fifty states was seen as a repudiation of President Bush (41). Well, Bill Clinton did win two consecutive terms as President afterwards. There could be a local parallel here:

After nearly a decade of gains, the wind dropped out of the sails for local Republicans in 2003, when Republican county Chief Executive Jim Roddey was defeated for re-election by Democrat Dan Onorato.

The perception that the party is on the ropes was not improved two weeks ago, when state Rep. Michael Diven, a Democrat-turned-Republican from Brookline, failed to win a Pittsburgh-area state Senate seat. Diven was defeated decisively by Democrat Wayne Fontana, of Brookline. The loss dispelled the hope that Republicans here could duplicate other recent GOP gains in the region, including a Senate seat in Westmoreland County that a Republican won in November.

The Diven loss was as demoralizing for local Republicans this year as the Thornburgh loss was for the national party fourteen years ago. Could history repeat? Let's hope so. Two years after Clinton was first elected, Republicans took a majority in Congress (House and Senate) that they still enjoy today.

After the assault on my US mailbox by the Diven campaign in the recent special election, you would think that the party had money to burn. Not so, say the county Republicans, and they are calling in the big guns to help pass around the collection plate:

A money-raising event that's scheduled for June 9 at the Omni William Penn Hotel, Downtown, should help a lot, [Executive Director Monica] Douglas said. The keynote speaker will be Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman. The event is expected to draw more than 400 Republicans and raise about $20,000, which would be comparable to last year's event, Douglas said.

"I sense a tremendous amount of excitement and enthusiasm among our rank-and-file committee members," she said.

Someone has been watching The Phantom Menace again. ("I sense an unusual amount of fear for something as trivial as this trade dispute" --Qui-Gon Jinn) Either that, or the force really is strong with her. Or maybe she is just trying to sound overly optimistic about things. Dissent within the party does exist:

"Morale doesn't seem to be what it should be," said Bob Hillen, chairman of the Pittsburgh Republican Committee and a GOP candidate for City Council.

Party loyalists he has spoken with in the suburbs say they are discouraged over local races. "They keep telling me they're not getting any help from the county (party)," Hillen said.

Pittsburgh has been treated as a lost cause for decades, so you expect the county party not to put a great deal of effort into the city. When the suburbs start complaining, then you know that the situation is much worse than the Jedi council makes it out to be. Before they start planning these huge fundraisers, the Allegheny County Republicans needs to work more closely with the suburbs. A good way to start would be to strengthen party organizations at the most basic levels. Some areas have begun doing so on their own:
Work this spring has produced new organizations in communities such as Dormont and Crafton, where Republicans have made few inroads, she said.

Gary Young, 53, chairman of the recently formed GOP committee in Dormont, said he and others decided to become more active after working as volunteers in President Bush's re-election campaign.

"It's very exciting," he said. "We feel energized and optimistic."

It doesn't sound as though the county party had much to do with it. But it is a good model for making inroads into other areas -- all that is needed is the same energy and optimism that jump-started the Dormont committee. It needs to be done soon, too:

With key elections in the picture next year -- including Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, of Penn Hills, facing a serious challenge in his re-election bid, and a mounting GOP effort to unseat Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell -- the Allegheny County Republican Committee's ability to muster its troops is critical, said Kent Gates, a longtime Republican operative in Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh-area politics.

Gates, who was Roddey's campaign manager in 1999 and 2003, said he's troubled by the outlook in Allegheny County.

"I don't think there is a cohesive effort to build the party for next year," he said.

Oddly enough, it seems like the Republicans have a better shot at knocking off Rendell than they do of getting Santorum reelected. Ever since his election to the Senate, Rick has been all over the map politically, or at least much more so than his detractors would recognize. It would be interesting if Lynn Swann survives the primaries next year and defeats Fast Eddie in October. If that happens, expect to see more pro football legends running for office all across America.

The last word in the article is given to the Executive Director:

Douglas said the party is on track.

"I have every confidence that going into the next election cycle, we are going to be a force to be reckoned with," she said.

There she goes again, talking about the force. Actually, this makes her sound more like Chancellor Palpatine than a Jedi, which might not be such a bad thing. After all, as anyone who has seen Episode III can tell you, the Sith defeated the Jedi.

1 comment:

Mark Rauterkus said...

My boys love Star Wars. Too much so at times.

Nice read on the posting.

I'm a former republican -- free market republican -- that went to the Libertarian party. That isn't like going all the way to The Dark Side. But, I got out of dodge before the slasher went into the prep school.

But, I'm not sure that the wins are more to the other side's credit as much as the folly of the council.

Who has the role, Jar Jar Binks?