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Penn US Senate Candidate Ignored by State Dems, Omitted by AP PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Monday, 14 March 2005 01:15
Penn US Senate Candidate Ignored by State Dems, Omitted by AP

The Pennsylvania State Democratic Party has mobilized its energies on behalf of centrist Bob Casey, Jr., for the 2006 US Senate race to unseat the ultra-right Rick Santorum (R-PA), while seemingly ignoring progressive candidate, Chuck Pennacchio.
Peter Jackson, an Associated Press writer, also did not mention the existence of a progressive Democratic candidate in a recent article about the race, available here.

Chuck Pennacchio (www.chuck2006.com) said, in an interview for the progressive news community, that he supports universal health care and living wages, and he that is anti-war, and pro-choice.

Two other Democratic candidates for the 2006 race, former Republican Barbara Hafer and progressive Joe Hoeffel, dropped out of the race after Governor Rendell (D-PA) endorsed Bob Casey, who is anti-choice.

"In terms of party elites lining up behind a candidate early in the race," said Jerome Maddox, Assistant Professor in Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, "that's not rare in Pennsylvania or in other states."

Maddox said, although, that he sees in party elite endorsements "some inconsistency with the idea of empowering localities and the grassroots [to select candidates]."

Struggling for State Party Recognition

The state Democratic Party claims little knowledge of Pennacchio's campaign, according to Don Morabito, executive director of the Pennsylvania state Dems.

"I've met him, yes," Morabito said. "So we are aware [the Pennacchio campaign exists]. I just met him the other night. He seems like he's a nice fellow. That's all that I can say. I don't know much about his campaign."

Pennacchio's campaign leadership, however, says it had taken a number of steps to make both the state party and the local press well aware of Pennacchio's candidacy for 2006.

Tim Tagaris, Pennacchio's communication director, added, "If the State Party can't take the time to find out about the candidates in their state, then that might have to do something with the fact that the Democrats haven't won a full-term Senate seat since the 1960's."

Pennacchio himself says he contacted TJ Rooney, State Democratic Chair, nine months ago.

"For months he's been traveling around the state attending Gala events, Democracy for America House Parties, and meetings," said Tagaris, echoing the frustration of the campaign staff.

"It was very disrespectful, and mostly to the volunteers," Chuck Pennacchio said. "We had hundreds of volunteers who have been giving their time and energy. Also, it's disrespectful to the people this campaign represents. We represent working class people, middle class men and women, children, older Americans? Our campaign stands for a better and brighter future."

Pennsylvania has not had a full-term Democratic U.S. Senator since 1969. The state's seats are currently occupied by Arlen Specter (R) and Santorum (R).

"It is an anomaly," said Professor Maddox. "If you think over the last ten, fifteen years, you have a state trending slightly Democratic. Clinton carried the state twice [in the Presidential election], and Gore carried it in 2000, as did Kerry in 2004. And [Democratic] Governor Rendell was elected statewide."

"The State Party would be happy if we just went away," said Tagaris of the Pennacchio campaign. "They will try to deny our existence as long as they can. I feel the State Democratic Party is looking at this as a coronation. Newsflash. Nominees are not selected in smoke-filled back rooms or by editorial boards. They're trying to stifle policy discourse."

"Instead of going to Harry Reid [the US Senate Minority Leader] or Governor Rendell, we've been taking our case to the people," says Tagaris.

"We're happy Bob Casey is running!" exclaimed Morabito, of the State Democratic Party. "He got 3.2 million votes the last time he ran for office. Assuming he wins the primary, he's the strongest candidate against Santorum."

However, Morabito did not have such enthusiastic comments when asked about the party's position on the Pennacchio campaign. "Pennacchio is welcome to file," he said.

Farinella of Casey's campaign wouldn't refer to the Pennacchio campaign specifically, but said, "We live in a nation where anyone who wants to run has the ability to run. And this is a good thing. We welcome them into the race."

The Governor's communication director, Penny Lee, echoed those thoughts. "The Governor looks forward to learning more about the Pennacchio campaign and his stance on issues," said Lee.

Snubbed by the AP

Penny Lee, communication director for Pennsylvania governor, Ed Rendell, told Peter Jackson of the AP, "It was always his [Casey's] goal to try to have a united front. We're not expecting anyone to file against Bobby."

Since then, Lee has clarified in a phone interview for this story, "At the time of my [AP] comment I was not aware of them," adding that she has been made aware in recent days of the Pennacchio campaign. "I simply never heard of them before and didn't know he was filing for candidacy. [The state party] had not informed me of his candidacy."

"I spoke with Peter Jackson of the AP for ten to fifteen minutes the day Casey announced," said Tagaris of the Pennacchio campaign. "And I told him, I want to make sure you understand there's another candidate in the race. We sent him a press release. And he questioned the legitimacy of the campaign. He said Chuck hadn't been elected to office before, and said that's what everybody says is required."

"Out of the call from Tim [Tagaris] to Peter [Jackson] we had the expectation he would include a mention of our campaign," said Chuck Pennacchio. "The way it appears in the article is as if we don't exist."

AP writer, Peter Jackson, did not respond to an interview request. AP Philadelphia Bureau editor, Larry Rosenthal, declined to comment on the story Jackson wrote, and to explain the criteria by which AP journalists distinguish 'legitimate' from 'illegitimate' campaigns.

The candidate, Chuck Pennacchio, has since had a conversation with Rosenthal of the AP, two days after the story came out. "The pressure brought to bear on the AP by bloggers is critical, and the response has been citizen outrage that the mainstream media would try to shut out a campaign of mainstream Pennsylvania people and mainstream Pennsylvania values."

"The AP perpetuated already existing barriers to progressive candidates with grassroots organizations," added Tagaris. "We should be taking the lead and talking about the impact of social security, for example. Instead, we spent a lot of time trying to legitimize our campaign."

A Progressive Choice

"We don't want this campaign to be a choice in the end between Casey, who has many conservative ideas, and a radical conservative like Rick Santorum," Chuck Pennacchio said.

"It is true Bob Casey is pro-life," agreed Marc Farinella, Casey's campaign advisor. "But he's running because the current Republican leadership has turned their backs on the Pennsylvanian middle-class. So the question of his position on choice, that doesn't at all capture his motivation for running."

Professor Maddox noted, "In the race against Santorum, [Casey's pro-life stance] is a powerful position. Part of what Santorum depends on is mobilizing pro-life voters. They're often single-issue voters. As a strategic matter, it strikes at the core of Santorum's base."

Yet, Chuck Pennacchio doesn't see it that way. "If voters are presented with a choice, between a half-way Conservative and a true Conservative, they're going to go with the real deal," he says.

"That's what happened in 2000 with Santorum's re-election. The Democrats ran a conservative candidate named Ron Klink. And all the excitement in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh just dissipated. The progressives sat on their hands not to support Klink. That's the feeling we're already getting from people in the early response to Casey," Pennacchio added.

"What we have is a silent majority, because more than half of Pennsylvanians sit out those races. We need a clear, distinct message that represents the Pennsylvania majority on all issues," Pennacchio concluded.

Matthew Cardinale is a freelance writer, advocate, and graduate student at UC Irvine in sociology and democracy studies. He may be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

An earlier version of this article ran on RawStory.com
Last Updated on Monday, 14 March 2005 01:15
 

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