Thursday, May 18, 2006

Another Keystone milestone

I was remiss yesterday in not mentioning another key election that transpired Tuesday night here in the Keystone state, further evidence that an anti-incumbent/anti-Republican voter revolt could be in the works for November.

Voters in Chester County, a rock-ribbed Republican enclave of suburban Philadelphia, were invited to choose a new state senator. They went with the Democratic candidate, Andrew Dinniman -- and he'll be the first Democrat state senator to represent that county since the horse and buggy era. Republicans outnumber Democrats in that district by a 2-1 margin, yet Dinniman took 55 percent of the vote. Dinniman also won 22 of 26 muncipalities.

He and his Republican opponent, Carol Aichele, are both county commissioners. There were no scandals to skew the results. So what happened? Well, Skip Brion, the county Republican chairman, gave the local paper an instant analysis: "What happened here was obviously our voter base decided to send a message to us." And another Republican told the paper that voter dissatisfaction with the Republican leadership contributed to Aichele's defeat, even though she was not to blame.

Coupled with evidence that a significant number of Republican voters crossed over to vote for Dinniman, this election could have implications in November for Jim Gerlach, the Republican congressman whose district includes a large slice of Chester County, and who has only won narrowly in the past.

Gerlach has already been listed by non-partisan handicappers as one of the most vulnerable GOP incumbents nationwide, and now, as Pennsylvania analyst Terry Madonna noted the other day, the Dinniman election "should cause Republicans at the state level to be concerned about the ability of the Democrats to extend their reach in the suburbs....This is not good news for Gerlach. He will have a state official in his backyard who can help plan his political demise."

One can always argue -- as some diehard GOP defenders are doing -- that these are merely local results, with no ill portent for Republicans nationwide, but not even the party's top activists are buying that. They say that this is no time to be in denial.

Pat Toomey, president of the conservative Club for Growth said yesterday that what has happened in Pennsylvania "shows a very worrisome, elevated level of anger and frustration on the part of Republicans. In a primary, they can vent that by voting for challengers. The problem is, in a general election they stay home. It's a very worrisome sign for Republicans in Washington."