2009-03-05 / Local & State

Party Leaders Scoff At Pa. Voters' '8-Year Itch'

By Peter Jackson ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Democrats have been on a winning streak in recent statewide elections: Barack Obama carried Pennsylvania handily on his way to the White House, state House Democrats widened their majority from one seat to five, and the party recaptured control of the state Supreme Court.

Will it last through 2010, when Pennsylvanians will elect a governor to succeed Democrat Ed Rendell?

Tradition says no, it's the Republicans' turn.

Since the 1950s, even before the state constitution was amended to allow governors to serve two four-year terms, voters have regularly replaced the party in charge of state government every eight years. Some call it the "eight-year itch.''

The state chairmen of the two major parties played down the significance of the statistics as they played up their prospects in an election still almost two years away.

Democratic Chairman T.J. Rooney said his party is well-positioned to buck the trend following last year's voter-registration gains that left Democrats outnumbering Republicans by more than 1 million.

His GOP counterpart, Rob Gleason, said his party is on the rebound and ready to work hard to regain the governorship.

Terry Madonna, a pollster and professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, said enthusiasm about Obama's presidency and registration trends could help Democrats win in 2010. But he said much will hinge on the success or failure of the president's economic initiatives.

The lists of prospective gubernatorial candidates in both parties are exclusively male.

The most visible prospect is the man with the most visible job - state Attorney General Tom Corbett, a Republican who was handily elected to a second four-year term last year.

In his re-election campaign, Corbett touted his agency's investigation into alleged legislative corruption. It made news again recently, when he asked the state Supreme Court to authorize a second grand jury in Harrisburg because the current panel needs to work full-time on the investigation before its term expires in August.

This week, Corbett also made a rare personal appearance before a regulatory review panel to blast the Pennsylvania Bar Association for what he described as an attempt to "sidetrack'' long-delayed regulations governing compliance with the state's 2-year-old lobbyistdisclosure law. The panel approved the regulations.

Corbett's fellow Republican Patrick Meehan has maintained a lower profile since stepping down as the U.S. attorney for the Philadelphia-based Eastern District last summer and joining a Philadelphia law firm. But people close to Meehan say he has been traveling around the state, attending local GOP functions and meeting with fundraisers.

Meehan has set up a political committee that allows him to receive and spend money. He ended 2008 with $233,000 in the bank - more than double Corbett's yearend total.

Pat Toomey, the conservative former congressman who nearly unseated Sen. Arlen Specter in the 2004 primary, and U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach, who has been an outspoken critic of the federal economic stimulus plan, also have said they may seek the GOP gubernatorial nod.

Among Democrats, Allegheny County Executive Don Onorato stands out for his fundraising prowess, finishing last year with more than $4 million in the bank. His largest contributions included $89,000 from the Pittsburgh Sustainability Political-Action Committee and $10,000 from Pittsburgh Steelers owner Arthur J. Rooney II.

Don Cunningham, a former state secretary of general services who is seeking re-election as Lehigh County executive this year, had nearly $678,000 on hand at the year's end.

Tom Knox, who spent $12 million of his own money in an unsuccessful primary bid for Philadelphia mayor in 2007, has had a Knox for Governor Web site up since late last year.

Jack Wagner, who was sworn-in for a second four-year term as state auditor general in January, has said he is considering a possible campaign for either governor or U.S. Senate in 2010.

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