Friday, May 26, 2006

First Bush, then Swann visit Pottstown area

All of a sudden, the Pottstown area is the political center of the universe.

President Bush paid a visit Wednesday to the Limerick nuclear power plant on the outskirts of Pottstown before heading to Philadelphia to raise money for two area congressmen facing tough re-election campaigns.

On Thursday, GOP gubernatorial candidate Lynn Swann took a trolley tour of Pottstown before addressing a group of supporters outside Pottstown Borough Hall.

It's no coincidence Bush and Swann spent time in the Pottstown area. The re-election of Congressman Jim Gerlach -- and possibly Republican control of the House -- could be at stake as we head to the mid-term elections. Gerlach is being targeted by the Democrats, who are prepared to spend whatever it takes to replace him with liberal Lois Murphy.

The problem isn't Gerlach. He's a moderate Republican who works hard for his constituents. The problem is that the 6th District was drawn up by political insiders from Washington, D.C., who didn't have a clue about the changing demographics in the Philadelphia suburbs. Gerlach won the district in 2002 against a surprisingly strong Democratic challenger and then barely held on in 2004, beating back Murphy, a longtime lobbyist, by a few thousand votes.

Swann's visit to Pottstown is important for his chances to unseat Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell, who was elected in 2002 mainly by voters in Philadelphia and the four suburban counties around the City of Brotherly Love.

Considering Rendell won only 18 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties, he doesn't have a lot of room for error in his re-election bid. Rendell must hold on to every vote in the Philadelphia region, especially the suburbs, or he'll be Pennsylvania's first one-term governor since the state constitution was amended 40 years to allow governors to serve consecutive terms.

Western Montgomery County, where Pottstown is located, is in play in 2006. While the eastern half of the county, which borders Philadelphia, is becoming more Democratic, Republicans still hold a registration advantage as you move further away from Philly.

Republicans have had recent success in places like Pottstown, where they were able to oust a longtime Democratic mayor and win three seats on the local town council last year. The election of Republican Mayor Sharon Valentine-Thomas and GOP council members Mark Gibson, Jim Vlahos and Greg Berry took many political observers by surprise in 2005.

It was no coincidence to find all four officials riding the trolley with Swann Thursday and introducing the GOP gubernatorial candidate to potential voters.

Valentine-Thomas and Swann talked about the resurgence of the GOP in Pottstown and how to build on that momentum to help Swann during part of the trolley ride. Also aboard were Swann's running-mate, lieutenant governor candidate Jim Matthews, and state Rep. Tom Quigley. State Sen. John Rafferty, another popular area Republican, tagged along for part of the tour.

Swann hammered away at Rendell's broken promises on property tax reform. Rendell promised voters in 2002 he would reduce the tax burden on homeowners by at least 30 percent. In Rendell's first three years in office, the tax burden on Pennsylvania residents has gone up nearly $1.5 billion, according to Swann.

One of the best lines Swann had concerned his relative inexperience in politics. Comparing himself to a veteran politician like Ed Rendell who has decades in government but has failed to deliver on his promises, Swann said, "If that's what experience does for you, I'm happy not to have any experience."

Bush did well on Wednesday speaking to several hundred employees at the Limerick nuclear plant about the nation's need to ease its dependence on foreign oil. Despite his low job approval numbers, Bush received an enthusiastic welcome from nuclear plant workers when he said he'd like to see the U.S. rely more on nuclear energy.

In Philadelphia, Bush helped raise $450,000 for Gerlach and Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick. The president said Gerlach and Fitzpatrick were "two of the young stars of the United States Congress" and both deserved re-election.

Fitzpatrick is running against a lawyer by the name of Patrick Murphy, no relation to Lois Murphy, who is also a lawyer and a former campaign worker for Ed Rendell.

Expect Pennsylvania -- and Pottstown in particular -- to receive more attention from state and national candidates as we get closer to the Nov. 7 election.

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