Could attacks on Pileggi doom Pa. GOP?

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If Republicans move right, will they lose moderates — and control?

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

TimesPoliticsUnusualIs state Sen. Dominic Pileggi in danger of becoming a former Senate Majority leader?

If you ask a couple of his fellow Republican senators, who have both issued scathing letters condemning the senator, yes. But Pileggi, who represents a large swath of southern Chester County, seems ready to seek another term leading his caucus.

The newest letter from Sen. Don White (R-41), comes weeks after a similar letter from Sen. Scott Wagner, condemning Pileggi for thwarting “our mainstream Republican agenda.” White cited failures of votes to reach the senate floor for paycheck protection, pension reform and liquor privatization. White’s letter hits Pileggi on his committee votes regarding coal regulations and gun control, as well.

It’s nothing new, of course.

Pileggi has been forced to hold together a fragile coalition of extremely conservative Republicans from the middle of the state with more moderate members in the metro Philadelphia area. Vastly outnumbered in statewide registration by Democrats, Republicans have been able to maintain statewide control for the most part through a coalition that remains just moderate enough to keep some Democratic and moderate voters supporting them.

And its that knife edge that Pileggi is constantly working to maintain, being Republican enough to keep support there, but not so conservative that it drives off independents and Democrats. It’s an issue that clearly White and Wagner and those of the “conservative purity at all costs” side of the party often seem to miss out in their dreams of a heavily armed, gay marriage and abortion-free, fracking and charter school-filled Pennsylvania utopia.

But the political reality is this: were the state GOP to adopt some of the more conservative positions these two and others advocate, entire sections of the southeast would begin to abandon the Republicans in droves. Already, Pileggi’s native Delaware County is a fragile beachhead for Republicans, who may be just a cycle or two from losing control of the county, and numerous state house seats — as has happened already in Montgomery County.

Much the same situation exists in Chester and Bucks, albeit not to the same degree. In the main there, most of the voters there are moderates — and increasingly uncomfortable with extremists. A sharp move to the right could accelerate an ongoing increase in Democratic registration and voter performance in those counties.

A loss of GOP control in the collar counties of Philadelphia will mean that the Republicans will doom themselves to permanent minority status — and with the tide moving the wrong way, two or three bad cycles could put the entire legislature in Democratic control, meaning the next round of redistricting will be in Democratic hands. Don’t think for a second that they won’t gerrymander just as viciously as Republicans did in 2012 — meaning a half dozen Congressional seats could change party in 2022.

Pileggi is a pragmatic guy who sees things for how they are. If he gets pushed aside in the Majority Leader election next year, it’s a sign that idealogical purity is more important to the Republican Party than being in charge.

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Barring, as James Carville is fond of putting it, Tom Wolf “being found with a dead girl or a live boy” it appears that Wolf is headed to big win over Gov. Tom Corbett in November. It’s still unclear what the impact will be on turnout in down ballot races, but you have to think that it will hurt Republicans.

One race that seems to be turning white-hot in Chester County is the race for the 157th State House seat in the Phoenixville area. Adding to that fire is questionable move of the Phoenixville West precinct from the 157th to the 155th District — a district that is presumably safe for State Rep. Becky Corbin.

State Rep. Warren Kampf has been running a ton of nasty attack ads against Democrat Marian Moskowitz and I’m hearing the polling numbers have been surprisingly bad for Kampf in the district. Republicans seem to be hitting the panic button a bit here, especially in light of the fact that their turnout is likely to hurt. I wouldn’t be surprised if this backfires, though, and galvanizes the usually unenthusiastic Democratic base and even impacts neighboring state house races.


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One race where it seems like Corbett’s numbers won’t have an impact is the Sixth Congressional District, which is pretty moving into stone-cold-lock territory for Republican Ryan Costello over Democrat Manan Trivedi. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee cancelled a lot of TV ad buys for Trivedi, to spend money in races that were more viable, signaling that even they don’t see the race as winnable.

Although it’s early, speculation seems likely to start about who might replace Costello as Chester County Commissioner — a topic that has been surprisingly quiet. I’ve heard some rumblings about party chair Val DiGiorgio — who graciously stepped aside to allow Costello a clean path for the Sixth District race, as well as a few other other options from Rick Loughery, the current Recorder of Deeds and someone seen as a young star, much as Costello was just a few years back. One would hope that Ann Duke, the county Treasurer, would get some support — but there hasn’t been much talk leaking out beyond the private confines of the party. Something to monitor, though.

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