GOP Moderates and Conservatives Vie for Supremacy in Pennsylvania
THE battle between Republican moderates and conservatives moved to Pennsylvania this week. The tally from Tuesday's primary gave the edge to the moderates, but the fight is far from over.
``There's a very serious struggle for the heart and soul of the Republican Party,'' says G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Millersville University in Millersville, Pa. Conservatives ``are fighting to take over control of the party.''
Moderates won the state's high-profile GOP gubernatorial primary. United States Rep. Tom Ridge defeated state Attorney General Ernie Preate, winning 35 percent of the vote to Mr. Preate's 29 percent. The result is widely seen as a victory for moderates, since Preate had courted the religious right. Congressman Ridge, meanwhile, represented the latest in a long line of Pennsylvania Republicans who have won state office by attracting Democrats.
``Pennsylvania has for a long time been the home base for the moderate component of the Republican Party, and Tom Ridge stands in that tradition,'' says Robert Friedrich, associate professor of government at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa.
Ridge will face Democratic Lt. Gov. Mark Singel in the fall. Lieutenant Governor Singel defeated a crowded field, including Lynn Yeakel, who finished fourth after nearly upsetting Sen. Arlen Specter two years ago.
Republican conservatives still stand a good chance to elect one of their own this fall. Conservative US Rep. Rick Santorum easily won the party's nomination to challenge Democratic Sen. Harris Wofford. Senator Wofford, who ran unopposed Tuesday, is the candidate who sparked Democratic hopes nationwide after winning an upset victory in 1991 on a platform of universal health care.
The stage is set for a race between a liberal Democrat and a conservative Republican in a state where neither extreme has a history of doing well in Senate races. How these candidates maneuver during the campaign season - and how far they move to the center in a search for votes - will say much about the mood of the electorate, political analysts say. If the Pennsylvania primary is any indication, the mood is far more upbeat than in 1992.
``Politics is resembling much more normal times here in Pennsylvania,'' says Michael Young, professor of politics and public affairs at Pennsylvania State University in Harrisburg. ``People aren't feeling the economic pinch so much. They're not as worried.''
Wofford and Representative Santorum were almost invisible during the primary, but the early signs are that both will move to the center in search of votes. Wofford, having put health care on the nation's agenda, has become virtually silent on the issue. According to Professor Madonna, he is deliberately trying to avoid becoming a single-issue candidate or getting identified too closely with the Clinton administration. Santorum, meanwhile, faces a dilemma, analysts here say. Either he sticks to the right and loses the race or he moves to the center and builds a winning coalition that includes Democrats.
Conservatives still do not have enough electoral punch to elect someone to statewide office, these analysts add, but they're gaining power.
``They are becoming the dominant wing of the Republican Party,'' says Professor Young. ``In the past they have tended to be much lower profile. They're now moving into the forefront.''
In another sign of change, US Rep. Lucien Blackwell - a longtime force in Philadelphia politics - lost his bid for reelection to state Sen. Chaka Fattah. The primary victor, who campaigned on urban renewal, called the vote ``a wake-up call to the nation.''
He is virtually assured of prevailing in November in this heavily Democratic district.
In another state, Oklahoma elected Republican state Rep. Frank Lucas to fill out the term for Democratic Rep. Glenn English. He beat Democrat Dan Webber.