Can Pa. Dems use the house that Trump built to flip a deep red seat in W.Pa? | Wednesday Morning Coffee

February 24, 2021 7:13 am

Republican Pa. House candidate Leslie Baum Rossi (Pa. Dems photo)

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

President Donald Trump may be out of the White House, but as much as the Biden administration might wish it, he’s hardly out of mind.

In Washington, despite the carnage of Jan. 6, congressional Republicans are tying their political futures to the ex-president more tightly than ever, as evidenced by House Minority Whip Steve Scalise’s, R-La.pilgrimage to Mar-A-Lago over the weekend. As we’ve written before, it’s part of an ongoing identity crisis that could well rip the GOP apart at the national level.

In Pennsylvania, a state that President Joe Biden pried back from the GOP last fall, winning by more than 81,000 votes, legislative Republicans are falling into line, with some in the statewide GOP parroting the 45th president’s baseless lines about stolen elections and voting irregularities.

There’s one fundamental difference, of course, between the Keystone State GOP and their Capitol Hill colleagues. In Pennsylvania, Republicans control the state House and Senate, and aren’t sweating an imminent Democratic takeover. Meanwhile, Scalise and U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., want to claw their way back to the majority. And they believe that path runs straight through West Palm Beach.

And like the national GOP, the Pennsylvania Republican Party, once the home of such moderates as ex-Gov. Tom Ridge and former U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, the statewide party has been entirely remade in Trump’s image, with such figures as U.S. Reps. Scott Perry, R-10th District, and Guy Rechenthaler, R-14th District, ascendant.

Reschenthaler, for instance, has been mentioned as a possible successor to U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who’s retiring in 2022, and who was one of seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict Trump at his impeachment trial earlier this month. Perry, meanwhile, was one of the ringleaders of the movement to object to Pennsylvania’s electoral votes in January. That’s happening even as thousands of Republican voters in Pennsylvania flee the party.

Now, with a state House seat on the line during a special election this May, grassroots activists in western Pennsylvania have turned to a candidate who actually remade an abandoned home in Trump’s image.

And while the GOP might see its next generation of leaders in that candidate, Leslie Baum Rossi, Pennsylvania Democrats, see a fund-raising opportunity, and perhaps even a long-shot opportunity to flip a House seat in deep red Westmoreland County.

Last weekend, Rossi, 50, was tapped to run for the seat formerly held by Rep. Mike Reese, R-Westmoreland, who died of an apparent brain aneurysm on Jan. 2. She’s best known as the creator of “The Trump House,” which is festooned with stars and stripes, and boasts a 12-foot-tall cutout of the former president. She beat out four other candidates, including Reese’s widow, Angela Reese, to win the nod, the Tribune-Review was first to report.

Democrats already are trying to position the race as a fight between “real American values” and the dregs of Trumpism, warning supporters in a fund-raising email that describes Rossi as a “conspiracy theorist,” who has argued that Biden did not win the election.

“I feel, and will always feel, that he won and by a lot in our state,” Rossi told the Tribune-Review, repeating the former president’s baseless claims.

In a fund-raising email that went out on Tuesday afternoon, Democrats contrasted Rossi to their nominee, Mariah Fisher, a local borough councilwoman, saying Fisher “embodies the hard work and love of community both parties should want in their representatives—but that Republican party bosses have abandoned.”

It could well be wishful thinking. As the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso reported earlier this week, the historically red district hasn’t been represented by a Democrat since the 1970s.

The question, then, for Democrats: Are there enough disaffected Republicans and independents to neutralize the Republican advantage in the contest? Again, it’s a long-shot. But with this week’s mail blast, Democrats are signaling both intention and strategy.

“Harrisburg Republicans have abandoned democracy to turn our statehouse into a Trump FanClub,” the email reads.

It could well end up being a message with crossover appeal.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Pennsylvania could get a centralized vaccine registry when its stocks of vaccines grow, Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday. Elizabeth Hardison has the story.

Stephen Caruso has mapped out the Republican lawmakers who have signed onto a resolution to impeach Gov. Tom Wolf over his pandemic management policies.

Unlike the rest of Pa., Philly residents with HIV/AIDS aren’t eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, our partners at the Philadelphia Gay News report.

On our Commentary Page this morning, two scholars, one from Penn State, the other from the University of Tennessee, explain how Black cartographers put racism on the map of America. And opinion regular Bruce Ledewitz says that we need to crush the myth of the stolen election, or risk losing our democracy.

Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (Source: Tom Wolf Flickr.)

A constitutional amendment now before the state Legislature would allow gubernatorial nominees to pick their own running-mate after the primary, instead of giving voters the ability to pick the No. 2 candidate, SpotlightPA reports.
State lawmakers are unhappy about PennDOT’s plans to toll nine Pennsylvania bridges, the Post-Gazette reports.
PennLive runs its annual list of state employees who are paid more than $100,000.
The Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce says area residents aged 25-44 are the largest age group collecting unemployment, the Morning Call reports.
Grocery stores are having trouble keeping cat food in stock, the Citizens-Voice reports.
The high demand for N95 masks has altered protocols at York County hospitals, the York Dispatch reports.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day.

The first Philly-run mass vaccination clinics are targeting underserved populationsWHYY-FM reports.
central Pennsylvania congregation is leaving the United Methodist Church over what it says are discriminatory policies toward LGBTQ couples, WITF-FM reports.
State Sen. Dan Laughlin, R-Erie, 
will become the first Keystone State Republican to sponsor a bill legalizing recreational cannabis, GoErie reports. He’ll introduce the bill today with Sen. Sharif Street, D-Philadelphia.
Lawmakers in at least 23 states are backing bills
 that would ban employers from requiring workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or other infectious diseases, reports.
State Rep. Tarah Toohil, R-Luzerne, is running for Luzerne County judge, PoliticsPA reports.
Democrats in the U.S. House are prepping changes to the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, Roll Call reports. The bill could come to a vote on Friday.

What Goes On.
The Senate comes in at 11 a.m. Budget hearings roll on in the House Appropriations Committee. All sessions are live-streamed from the House chamber. Here’s the day’s schedule:
9 a.m., Senate Chamber: Joint hearing, House and Senate State Government committees
10 a.m: Department of Agriculture budget hearing
10 a.m, G50 Irvis: House Education Committee
1 p.m.: State-related universities budget hearing
2 p.m., 60 East Wing: House Democratic Policy Committee
3 p.m.: Department of Drug & Alcohol Programs budget hearing

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Best wishes go out this morning to reader Bill Fulton, of Camp Hill, Pa., and to WLVR-FM News Director Jen Rehill, both of whom celebrate today. Congratulations, friends.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s a lovely solo track from Wilco mainman Jeff Tweedy. From his 2020 solo record, ‘Love is the King,’ it’s ‘Guess Again.’

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Kasperi Kapanen scored in overtime to propel Pittsburgh a 4-3 win over the Capitals on Tuesday night.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.