- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 23, 2006

Democratic Gov. Edward G. Rendell of Pennsylvania, once considered a shoo-in for a second term, is running dead even against Republican and former Pittsburgh Steelers standout Lynn Swann, according to recent polls.

Mr. Rendell, one of his party’s few big state governors, was expected to have little trouble winning another four years in office, until the charismatic Football Hall of Fame wide receiver and ABC Sports commentator entered the contest in January, sweeping his rivals from the race for the GOP nomination and making the former Philadelphia mayor and national Democratic chairman look suddenly vulnerable.

An independent statewide survey last week by Atlanta-based Strategic Vision found the governor and Mr. Swann running neck and neck, drawing 44 percent each, with 10 percent undecided and 2 percent supporting others. Should Mr. Swann win, he would be the first black governor in the state’s history.

“What you have in Swann is a celebrity, like Arnold Schwarzenegger had out in California, who doesn’t come across as a typical politician. That’s helping him quite a bit. People want to like him and he comes across as very likeable,” said David E. Johnson, Strategic Vision’s pollster.

Mr. Swann exudes the kind of nonpolitical, outsider persona that an increasingly unhappy electorate seems to be looking for, Mr. Johnson said yesterday.

Mr. Rendell has seen his voter-approval scores fall below 50 percent, after his disastrous signing of a legislator pay-raise bill last year that triggered protests from voters and was later rescinded.

No Pennsylvania governor since World War II has been denied a second term, and Mr. Rendell is an effective campaigner who has amassed a $12.5 million war chest, compared with Mr. Swann’s $1.2 million. Elections analyst Stuart Rothenberg still gives Mr. Rendell the “narrow advantage for now,” but last week, he told his monthly newsletter subscribers that the governor is “more vulnerable.”

“No other gubernatorial candidate in the country received the worldwide recognition that Lynn Swann did when his former team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, won the Super Bowl” after Mr. Swann walked out on the field in the pre-game ceremony, Mr. Rothenberg said.

Two big questions about Mr. Swann are how he will perform as a first-time candidate and how much of the heavily Democratic black vote he can draw away from Mr. Rendell.

“Every politician has to motivate his base to win, and Swann’s base is the black vote. You can’t beat Rendell without breaking into the numbers in Philadelphia and the suburbs, and the obvious way to do that is to take the black vote,” said Clay Richards, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.

Mr. Swann is forming a campaign team that includes political adviser Mark Holman, former chief of staff to Republican Gov. Tom Ridge, and communications strategist Leonardo Alcivar, who worked for former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Mr. Swann is running on the issue of tax cuts, particularly property taxes that have become a dominant issue in Pennsylvania, but has not laid out his full agenda.

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