Symbolizing the growing gap between conservative activists embodied in the tea party movement and mainstream Republicans nationally, comes word of a fledgling write-in effort being mounted on behalf of Sam Rohrer, a Republican candidate for governor who was defeated by state Attorney General Tom Corbett, the party’s endorsed candidate, in last month’s Pennsylvania primary.
An eighteen-year veteran of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and leader in the movement to stop the national ID card, the 54-year-old Rohrer garnered 267,405 votes, or 31.3%, out of nearly 855,000 votes cast in the May 18 primary.
While the Berks County legislator, a longtime advocate of limited government who billed himself as the true conservative in the primary, has neither encouraged or discouraged the nascent write-in movement, which began to take shape only a few days after the state’s bruising primary election — a lopsided contest in which the heavily-favored attorney general and the GOP establishment unleashed a last-minute barrage of negative ads against Rohrer’s insurgent candidacy.
While remaining publicly aloof from the effort, Rohrer acknowledges that such an undertaking would be very difficult.
Rohrer’s supporters, meanwhile, are still angry about those unnecessary radio and televison attacks on their candidate, especially since Corbett — the party’s prohibitive favorite — already enjoyed what appeared to be an almost insurmountable lead in most public opinion polls in the days leading up to the primary.
“You don’t easily look past those kinds of cheap shots,” asserted one high-ranking Rohrer adviser shortly after the primary. “This wasn’t just a political campaign,” he said, adding that it was a genuine movement centered around a serious discussion of the issues facing the commonwealth.
More than 800 individuals have already joined the Facebook site promoting Rohrer’s unofficial write-in candidacy. The site was launched on May 23 by Vonne Andring, Rohrer’s western Pennsylvania campaign director. “That number grows daily and so does the dialogue,” Andring told Uncovered Politics on Sunday. “There’s a real face-off taking place — and that’s a great thing.”
An attractive and articulate spokesperson for the write-in effort, Andring is realistic about Rohrer’s chances as a write-in candidate, but explains that they’re engaged in more of a movement than an election. “We know the odds, and are realistic about the consequence and implications of our work,” she said.
She’s absolutely certain about one thing. “There is no doubt Sam would accept the post on a successful write-in.”
Statewide write-in campaigns rarely succeed, but it has happened. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina was elected to the U.S. Senate as a write-in candidate in 1954, and controversial “goat-glands” doctor John R. Brinkley, who was officially credited with 183,278 write-in votes, probably would have been elected governor of Kansas at the outset of the Great Depression if election officials had actually counted all of the ballots in which voters tried to scribble in his name.
Supported by tea party activists, numerous veterans of Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty, and hardcore conservatives — “Joe the Plummer” of 2008 presidential campaign fame even made an appearance for him during the primary — Rohrer’s potential as a write-in candidate surely worries Republican leaders in Pennsylvania, particularly since most pundits anticipate a close race this autumn between the white-haired Corbett and Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, the Democratic nominee.
Pennsylvania Democrats are watching this development witha mixture of glee and fascination. The witty Mark B. Cohen, a liberal lawmaker from northeast Philadelphia — one of the longest-serving members in the state legislature — delightfully suggested a slogan for the budding write-in movement: “Roar with Rohrer.”
A Rasmussen Reports poll released Saturday showed Corbett, who enjoys much higher name recognition at this point in the campaign, leading by sixteen percentage points among likely voters, but most experts expect the race to tighten considerably.
In the same poll, five percent indicated a preference for another candidate — a possible opportunity for Rohrer’s unauthorized write-in candidacy — while thirteen percent said they were undecided.
Despite Pennsylvania’s woefully pathetic record when it comes to tabulating write-in votes, this is an interesting development — one that will certainly be worth watching in the weeks and months ahead.