The Lehigh Valley is often an after-thought in the state election years. We have not elected a statewide official since the Civil War or some such thing. The Philadelphia and Pittsburgh candidates dominate and when someone does emerge from the “T,” it is often from Scranton (Bill Scranton, Bob Casey, Bob Casey, Jr., Ernie Preate, etc.) or the Erie area (Tom Ridge, Raymond Shaffer).
At one point in time 2010 promised to be different. Pat Toomey, who would have defeated Arlen Specter in the 2004 GOP primary for U.S. Senate but for a misguided effort by George W. Bush to keep the turncoat Specter in office, was mentioned as a candidate for governor. Don Cunningham was going to seek the post on the Democratic side.
In the interim, Toomey has decided to run again for Senate. He is the likely GOP nominee and will face the winner of the Sestak-Specter primary in November. Cunningham decided not to run and then almost laid an egg in his re-election campaign as county executive.
The closest the valley will come to the Governor’s Mansion will be Berk’s county’s Sam Rohrer, or more likely, Jim Gerlach. Still, Lehigh County may be ground zero in this year’s election.
Much of Lehigh County is in the 15th Congressional District. In that race, incumbent Republican Charlie Dent is running a strong campaign for re-election. As Dent says, “there are only two ways to run, hard or unopposed.” He promises to be opposed at every stage.
There will likely be a Tea Party candidate to challenge him in the GOP primary. That announcement will come soon. John Callahan has already announced his candidacy for (and has seemed to wrap up) the Democratic nomination. Callahan is Cunningham-lite, having replaced the young Bethlehem mayor with another young Bethlehem mayor. In addition, Jake Towne, an independent, is running. Towne does not, to my knowledge, take the Tea Party label, but he shares those views.
This will be a congressional race with national attention. The 15th District seat is reportedly number 3 on the Democratic National Congressional Campaign Committee hit list. It ranks high on the RNCCC list as well. They have been putting out pro-Dent and anti-Callahan releases for months. Even the local press has been covering this for months as have I in my Allentown Fiscal Responsibility articles.
This race is a microcosm of the nation. The district has a Democratic registration edge. It is heavily union. It is heavily ethnic. It is very blue color. As Barack Obama observed in 2008, guns and God prevail. It is a black eye to the Democrats that Republicans have held the seat for a dozen years (first Toomey and then Dent).
It is a major election because it may be the last, best chance to beat Dent. He is getting close to that invincible status. A near 60% vote total in 2008, when even powerful GOP Congressman Phil English lost in Pennsylvania, comes close to putting Dent into that very strong category of incumbents who will only lose due to scandal. Another win may make him much like Dan Flood or Joe McDade (who needed indictment to lose) or Don Sherwood (who was done in by infidelity).
It is also a major race because it will drive a heavy turnout and that could impact the two statewide races. Maybe Lehigh County can’t produce a state office candidate but I can affect the elections. Turnout in the “T” in Pennsylvania (thin of the state a Philly and Pittsburgh separated by a T in the middle) is important because it is needed to offset the Democratic majority in the two biggest cities.
Lehigh County turnout should be huge with the Dent-Callahan race and favorite son Pat Toomey in the race for U.S. Senate. Toomey would be in that untouchable category in Congress at this point had he not promised to follow a 3 term limit and then did it.
2010 should be a GOP year in the governor’s race. Ever since the last constitutional convention allowed governors to seek re-election, we have elected one party for 8 years and then the other. It is the GOP turn in 2010. Turnout in this area may help drive the statewide winner.
So, as 2010 dawns, it is going to be a major election year for the Lehigh Valley. With the congressional race leading the way, we will keep our sights on the local aspects of the state races as well.