Published: Sunday, August 22, 2010, 12:00 AM
DIANA FISHLOCK, The Patriot-News DIANA FISHLOCK, The Patriot-News
Local Democrats say the tea party is helping them because it’s dividing Republicans, and they insist they have plenty of enthusiasm and excitement going into November.
But polls show Democrats are lagging in Pennsylvania’s two marquee races for the fall.
Even Pennsylvania’s most prominent Democrat — Gov. Ed Rendell — cautioned that Democrats could be in trouble.
Republican gubernatorial nominee Tom Corbett leads Democrat Dan Onorato by at least 10 percentage points in the governor’s race, according to two recent polls. And Republican Pat Toomey, a former congressman in the Lehigh Valley, leads U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Delaware, by nearly as much in the race for the U.S. Senate.
The governor does not dismiss the tea party’s impact. He said the tea party will help bring more Republican voters to the polls in November.
"The tea party obviously I think is relatively small in numbers, but it is very enthusiastic about the election," Rendell said.
"So I think that’s the biggest hurdle for Democrats, and that’s where the tea party helps the Republicans the most, in what I would call the enthusiasm quotient," Rendell said. "They’re going to make sure that that Republican turnout is high."
Unless Democrats can find a way to compel "our base to turn out close to equal to the Republican turnout, which will be inspired by the tea partyites, we’re in trouble," Rendell said.
Democrats are trying hard.
Organizing for America, the grassroots movement that grew out of the Obama for America campaign, is working with Democrats to make sure voters understand how important the fall election is, spokeswoman Kerri Axelrod said.
The Dauphin County Democratic Committee is planning trips to Kipona, Harrisburg’s end-of-summer festival, and the Gratz Fair to kick off a new campaign.
"We are starting a voter registration drive that shows the 10 reasons we’re Democrats," said Marilyn Levin, chairwoman of the Dauphin County Democratic Committee. "If you believe in seven of those 10 reasons, guess what? You’re a Democrat."
The campaign is partly in response to the tea party, Levin said.
"The tea party is driving moderate Republicans and independents away from the Republican Party, and we are going to use this tool to help raise our numbers and make this county truly blue by electing Democrats," she said.
Voters today are much more independent, Levin said.
"They believe what the Democratic Party stands for. They just don’t know it yet," Levin said.
She thinks most moderate Republicans would answer yes to at least seven of those 10 items, which include a belief in: the Second Amendment, freedom from government interference in private lives and an efficient government that practices financial discipline.