Pennsylvania in the Spotlight

Posted March 5, 2008 at 6:28pm

Might as well toss a Keystone into that kitchen sink.

In a remarkable turn for Pennsylvania voters, the prolonged Democratic presidential nominating contest brings extra attention to the state — and puts a brighter spotlight on

the Congressional races further down the ballot.

The April 22 Democratic presidential primary is expected to increase turnout across the state for the Congressional primaries held on the same day — and could be a boon for two female Democratic candidates who hope to catch an updraft from Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) reinvigorated campaign. Polls in the state show Clinton leading so far over Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Gov. Ed Rendell (D) has endorsed Clinton.

Abe Amoros, executive director of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party, sees the influx of attention to his state party as a positive all the way down the ballot, but especially for female candidates.

“Having her at the top of the ticket is very helpful for women candidates,” he said. “As it should be, they are finally getting the respect that they deserve.”

In the 18th district, consultant Beth Hafer (D) is the only woman running in a three-way primary for the chance to take on three-term Rep. Tim Murphy (R). In northwestern Pennsylvania’s 3rd district, businesswoman Kathy Dahlkemper (D) is the only woman in a four-way primary to determine who will face Rep. Phil English (R) this fall.

In an interview, Dahlkemper said she thought Clinton supporters would “roll over to my candidacy as well.” The Erie resident, however, said she was still undecided as to which candidate she would support next month.

One of Dahlkemper’s opponents in the four-way primary, Erie County Councilman Kyle Foust (D), said the increased turnout could help his candidacy because he is the only elected official in the race.

“I think it will help,” Foust said. “I think it will increase turnout and that’s to my advantage. I’m already well-known.”

Dr. David Kozak, a professor at Gannon University, said he thought a Clinton candidacy could only boost Dahlkemper.

“If this was kind of a normal, run-of-the-mill primary, I think Foust would be favored because he’s a local office-holder from a highly respected political family,” Kozak said. “But in comes Kathy Dahlkemper. … My sense is because she’s the only female in the race and you’re going to have a big female turnout for Sen. Clinton, it could well turn over into this race.”

The campaigns of the other two Democrats in the race, church activist Mike Waltner and attorney Tom Myers, said the influx of new voters would help both of their candidacies.

And in the 18th district, Hafer campaign manager Ryan Matthews said Clinton’s candidacy only helps their campaign, as well.

“And being the only woman on the ballot, we already knew it was going to be a huge boon to our campaign,” Matthews said. “We only expect that to increase because of Hillary’s presence in the state.”

Hafer faces businessman Steve O’Donnell and Army veteran Brien Wall in the Democratic primary. Democrats view Murphy as potentially vulnerable this cycle, but none of the candidates has raised enough money to separate from the pack.

That might be a problem over the next six weeks as presidential campaigns buy up air time across the state’s television stations.

In the northeastern corner of the state, two Congressional districts share a single media market. In the 10th district, represented by freshman Rep. Christopher Carney (D), Republican businessmen Chris Hackett and Dan Meuser are in a close primary that now must compete for television time with presidential campaigns with millions more in their bank accounts.

The result of this saturation, according to one Republican consultant in the state, is that candidates might see “some diminishing returns on television ads,” but campaigns are going to have to spend the money in the state anyway.

“They’re going to spend a lot because this Scranton market is funny,” said the consultant. “It’s an area that Hillary has got to do well in because there are very few minorities.”

But Pennsylvania Republicans got some good news this week when Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) clinched the GOP nod. McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) led the state legislature in support while Giuliani was still in the race.

What’s more, the still-popular former Gov. Tom Ridge (R) is one of McCain’s national co-chairmen and loudest supporters.

“The two most popular presidential candidates considering the top of the ballot [were] John McCain and Rudy Giuliani,” said Michael Barley, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Republican Party.

Barley said that Ridge continues to be the Republican with the most mass appeal in the state when it comes to raising money for candidates.

“He appeals to a lot of different people,” Barley said. “They look finely on his service here. He’s still kind of still a rock star in our party.”