Republicans emphasize unity, 2020 as they tap Tabas as new state party chair

Lawrence Tabas, standing, makes his acceptance speech after winning a unanimous election as Pennsylvania GOP chair on July 13, 2019. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Correction: This story was updated to reflect that Build PA PAC is not related to the Pennsylvania Builder’s Association, but is a separate political action committee.

HERSHEY, Pa. —  Reeling from scandal, Pennsylvania Republicans picked a veteran party hand to guide the statewide GOP into a 2020 campaign cycle with both the White House and key statewide races on the line.

During an hour-long session in a hotel ballroom, Republican activists tapped Lawrence Tabas, a well-known Philadelphia elections attorney and long-serving party general counsel, as their new chairman.

He replaces former chairman Val DiGiorgio, of Chester County, who resigned following allegations of sexual harassment, including sending a picture of an erect penis, to a Republican candidate for city council in Philadelphia. The allegations were broken by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Tabas, who ran Trump’s 2016 campaign in the Keystone State, told Republican foot soldiers Saturday that “winning elections is our only goal,” and that the “party is marching forward as one, unified party.”

The event was a high-energy display of party unity after factional divides between Tabas and acting party Chairwoman Bernadette “Bernie” Comfort started to creep into public that could have made for a messy succession.

Tabas was the only candidate nominated for the open chairmanship. He was elected by a unanimous voice vote. The seat has been empty since DiGiorgio’s departure on June 25.

After DiGirogio stepped down, a two horse race opened up between Comfort, who was backed by Trump, and Tabas.

The Inquirer further reported that Comfort knew about allegations against DiGiorgio and did nothing, further complicating the race. Comfort has denied any knowledge of the allegations and said she called for DiGiorgio to resign as soon as she knew.

But a potential intra-party divide was closed Friday, when in a press release Comfort announced she was taking over as Trump’s 2020 campaign chair. Tabas would then ascend to state party chair.

Comfort said she was asked by the Trump campaign to consider the position, defusing the situation. During a speech before the nominating convention, filled with GOP committee members from across the state, Comfort said the party was “heading to a divided vote and a divided party, and that was unacceptable.”

But with 15 years of a working friendship with Tabas, Comfort said she was thrilled to instead lead Trump’s 2020 campaign in Pennsylvania — which most analysts have pegged as a crucial swing state for the next election.

“It was an easy decision for unity, it really was,” Comfort said after the election. She’ll continue on as vice chair of the party as well.

Tabas meanwhile said he entered the race — despite the president’s backing for Comfort — to try to bring grassroots energy to both Trump’s reelection campaign and state races.

“We only have 16 months to the next presidential election, and I knew that I could put aside things in my personal life and get in and do the work necessary with the members,” Tabas, who led Trump’s surprise 40,000-vote win in Pennsylvania, said following his election.

Besides re-electing Trump, Tabas said his main goal was electing the party’s two Superior Court candidates — Megan King and Christylee Peck — come November.

While the state Supreme Court is higher, Superior Court is often the last stop for many state criminal matters. Both Peck and King spoke to the convention.

The state party has also set up the Judicial Integrity PAC to help refocus on judicial elections, according to party spokesman Jason Gottesman. The PAC’s formation follows the GOP’s big 2015 state Supreme Court loss that flipped the state high court’s composition from red to blue.

The PAC, headquartered at the state GOP headquarters down the street from the Capitol, has already received $31,000 from the Commonwealth Leaders Fund, a conservative political fund; $10,000 from the *Build PA PAC, which takes money from numerous corporate donors according to OpenSecrets; and $5,000 from natural gas driller EQT’s state PAC.

The Democratic-controlled court last year redrew the state’s congressional lines, finding them an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander. The court has also made other rulings or pursued rule changes, like around medical malpractice, that have made Republicans apoplectic and point to the big money that state Democratic interest groups dropped into judicial races.

Tabas added that he wanted to try to reinforce the party’s General Assembly majorities come 2020. He called the 2018 blue wave that saw Democrats pick up 18 seats in the House and Senate, concentrated in the Philadelphia suburbs, an aberration. He pledged to get “all those seats back.”

“I’m confident that you’re going to see some wonderful surprise wins for us in the southeast,” Tabas said.

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