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Outside of Senate Race -- No Big Surprises

May 20, 2010 By:
Aaron Passman, JE Feature
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U.S. Rep Joe Sestak's defeat of Sen. Arlen Specter may have been the most talked about victory of Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary, but political observers say that beyond that, the day held few surprises.

Once the Specter/Sestak race was taken out of the mix, "it was pretty much as we expected,"according to Hank Butler, executive director of the Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition.

Republican Pat Toomey cruised to victory in the Republican senatorial primary. Specter barely fended off a primary challenge from Toomey in 2004, and his party switch in 2009 was largely seen as a way of avoiding another close contest with Toomey.

Center City political analyst Larry Ceisler observed that neither Toomey nor Sestak appears to have an edge among Jewish voters and, at least at this point, "the Jewish vote is up for grabs" in all the major races.

In the four-way Democratic race to succeed Gov. Ed Rendell, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato bested his three rivals by a margin of more than 20 percent. All four candidates were courting Jewish votes and dollars, and Onorato made his first trip to Israel last November.

Butler said it was hard to determine to what extent visiting the Jewish state benefitted the candidate when all four were reaching out to Jews. But, he said, "I think it gave Onorato a good perspective of the issues of importance to the federations and to the Jewish community as a whole."

Bala Cynwyd attorney Robert Fox was an early Onorato supporter who visited the Jewish state with the candidate. He said said that the Israel trip helped introduce the candidate to a number of voters in the eastern part of Pennsylvania, where he didn't have as much of a base.

On the Republican side, State Attorney General Tom Corbett bested State Rep. Sam Rohr (R-District 128) by a nearly two-to-one margin.

All of the candidates had voiced support for a bill that would force state pension funds to divest from foreign-owned companies with investments in Iran or Sudan. Butler noted that the bill -- which has already cleared the State Senate -- is on track to be passed by the House and land on the governor's desk by the end of June.

In the Democratic race for lieutenant governor, Northeast Philadelphian Jonathan Saidel -- formerly Philadelphia City Controller -- appears to have been edged out in a squeaker by State Rep. Scott Conklin (D-District 77). Unofficial results portray Conklin as leading by about 4,000 votes, or less than half a percentage point, but because the race is so tight, a recount is likely.

Retired Philadelphia judge Doris Smith-Ribner was also on the ballot, coming in with about 50,000 votes fewer than her two opponents.

If Conklin is certified as the winner, he will face Bucks County Commissioner Jim Cawley, who scooped up about 26 percent of the votes in a nine-way contest in the Republican primary.

Several observers pointed out that although Saidel has a history in Philadelphia, that association may have been a liability in other parts of the state.

Robin Schatz, director of government affairs for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, said that both gubernatorial candidates "are keenly aware of their Jewish constituencies," and both have Jewish advisers who are active in their campaigns.

In one of the state's most closely watched congressional races, Iraq war veteran Manan Trivedi beat out former Inquirer editorial writer Doug Pike by fewer than 1,000 votes.

Both candidates' Web sites showcased their support for Israel, but Pike made news earlier this spring when he returned more than $6,000 in contributions from the Jewish lobbying group J Street.

According to Ceisler, the J Street factor was largely "irrelevant," in part because too small a portion of the voting bloc is familiar with the left-leaning group.

Pike and Trivedi were vying for the chance to take on U.S. Rep Jim Gerlach (R-District 6) in the fall. Gerlach's seat has been a top target for Democrats during his eight years in the House, and he won contested elections in both 2006 and 2008.

In local Philadelphia races, State Rep. Babette Josephs (D-District 182) held on to her seat in a contest with Gregg Kravitz, winning by a margin of about 20 percent. Josephs is a long-time Jewish pol first elected to represent Center City in 1984. She is also a member of the Jewish Labor Committee and has defeated several primary opponents over the past two decades.

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