Millionaire Vs. Millionaire in Pa. Primary

Posted April 9, 2008 at 6:46pm

Talk about having unlimited resources. In Pennsylvania’s 10th district Republican primary, businessmen Dan Meuser and Chris Hackett have spent a combined $1.9 million from their own pockets on their bids to challenge freshman Rep. Christopher Carney (D) this November.

In a sprawling rural district filled with small towns and farm communities, that’s quite a bit of money leading up to the April 22 primary — a date that is also shared by the statewide Democratic presidential nominating contest.

But even in a district as large as the 10th, Meuser and Hackett are not very far apart. For one, the two candidates live about two miles from each other in Luzerne County, giving neither candidate a geographical advantage in the race.

Their business profiles are also similar in that both are entrepreneurs: Meuser is president of Pride Mobility products, a motorized wheelchair manufacturing company, while Hackett owns and manages OneSource, a staffing agency.

“It appears that Hackett might have the edge at this moment, but that can all change,” said one Washington, D.C., insider with close knowledge of the race.

The insider said the dynamic of the primary has changed, despite both candidates’ similarities. Each candidate is throwing more money around, and the tone of the race is getting nastier.

“The makeup of the race and the dynamic of the race has shifted,” the insider said. “But both candidates are remarkably similar. Both are very successful business owners, running on similar platforms and … both are opening their wallets.”

With just 12 days left before the GOP primary, Meuser has put $1.2 million of his own funds into the race and Hackett has put in $742,300, according to online records.

While both men were upfront about spending their own money when they got into the race last fall, many observers expected the race to cost the candidates about half as much as they have already spent.

“As far as our expectations, we expected to spend enough money to raise Chris’ name ID from zero,” Hackett spokesman Mark Harris said.

But the price of doing business in the district went up when the presidential campaign moved to Pennsylvania. In the northeastern section of the Keystone State, Hackett and Meuser are competing for television time with the Democratic presidential candidates.

Not surprisingly, many of the recent TV ads strike a negative tone. The first came from Hackett’s campaign, followed the next day with a retaliation from Meuser.

“When your opponent launches the first negative attack, they generally don’t launch it because [they’re] winning,” Meuser campaign manager Eric Wallace said.

Then the Club for Growth bought what it said was $90,000 in a contrast ad buy against Meuser. The group has also reported bundling $77,500 to Hackett.

Club officials, who endorsed Hackett last month, see the traditional Republican 10th district as a potential pickup in the home state of their president, Pat Toomey.

Carney was the first Democrat to take the seat in 30 years after married former Rep. Don Sherwood (R) fell to scandal surrounding allegations that he strangled his mistress.

Meuser, a longtime GOP contributor, supported moderate Sen. Arlen Specter (R) when Toomey challenged Specter from the right in the 2004 Republican primary. The club met with both candidates and maintains that Toomey’s interest in the state played no part in the endorsement.

In fact, Meuser has a long history of donating to Republican candidates, with the exception of of one donation to Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), an issue Hackett’s campaign has seized upon but a Meuser aide said was a matter of sharing one policy concern with the New York Congressman.

It’s also a history that has led some political observers to see this race as the insider Meuser versus the outsider Hackett. Meuser has gained the endorsement former Sen. Rick Santorum (R), Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta (R) and a slew of elected officials in the district.

“I would say Dan has worked very hard to elect Republicans and conservatives for the last 10 years,” Wallace said. “He was strong support of Senator Rick Santorum.”

It’s a distinction that the Hackett campaign uses to present its candidate as a Washington, D.C., outsider.

“We believe we’re in a position to win,” Harris said. “Certainly with two candidates out there spending a lot of money … we believe we’re in a really good position to win this race.”