As a Jew with a Torah-centric view of the world, Robert Guzzardi has no problem believing in the miracles described in the Bible. But the conservative activist and donor, who has been involved in electoral politics for years, has yet to experience a miracle personally.
Which is perhaps why the 69-year-old lawyer and businessman from Ardmore, who is launching a long-shot bid for governor, said he holds no hope of actually winning the office. Instead, he’s looking to send a message to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett and the Harrisburg Republican establishment: Stick to conservative principles or else face a primary challenger.
“I want to defeat and discredit the Pennsylvania Republican leadership,” said Guzzardi.
By all accounts, Corbett — who was elected in 2010 — faces a tough road to re-election. A Dec. 18 Quinnipiac University poll found that 56 percent of voters do not believe he deserves to be re-elected. His approval rating stood at a paltry 36 percent. At least eight Democrats — including U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, the sole Jewish member of the state’s congressional delegation — are competing for the chance to run against him.
But, despite calls from many in the party who fear Corbett is headed for defeat, no serious, well-known Republican has announced plans to run.
Enter Guzzardi, a divorced father of two adult children who is active in Aish Philadelphia. He said he identifies as “leaning Orthodox” in philosophy, but he is not particularly observant in practice. He converted to Judaism in 1990, and says he was drawn to the faith by what he sees as the Torah’s teachings on personal responsibility and economic freedom.
In the 2000s, he served as a board member of the Jewish Publishing Group, which oversees the Jewish Exponent. He also sits on the board of the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based think tank and on the national board of the Zionist Organization of America.
He is known in political circles for trying to elect and defeat other candidates, rather than running himself — though he did mount an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor in 2010.
He has spent tens of thousands of his own dollars to defeat Republicans he has deemed insufficiently conservative, including the late U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (before he became a Democrat) and former State House Speaker John Perzel of Northeast Philadelphia. In Perzel’s case, Guzzardi, a Tea Party Republican, actively helped a Democrat, Brendan Boyle, unseat him.
Guzzardi said he decided to enter the governor’s race after Corbett signed a $2.3 billion transportation bill in November to improve bridges, highways and mass transit. It will be funded in part by a higher gasoline tax.
“This is the candidate who promised no new taxes. He has broken his promise,” said Guzzardi. “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
A spokesman for Corbett’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Guzzardi has until March 11 to get 2,000 people to sign his petition,which would qualify him to be placed on the ballot for the Republican primary. He won’t be raising any money for his campaign — donors, he said, would be crazy to contribute — or spending any of his own. Still, he insisted that despite all the advantages enjoyed by the incumbent governor, there are enough dissatisfied Republicans to give him a chance at the GOP nomination.
“Once you deny Tom Corbett the nomination, you have now sent a message that will chill everybody,” he said.
“My goal,” said Guzzardi, “is to reform the Republican Party.”