Gerlach to run for Pa. governor

July 14, 2009 12:37:38 PM PDT
U.S. Rep. Jim Gerlach said Tuesday he will run for governor, as the fourth-term congressman from suburban Philadelphia became the first of three Republican candidates who are anticipated to run in 2010. As part of the announcement, Gerlach, 54, said he will not seek a fifth term in Congress.

The GOP primary next year could be a thr ee-way race: Attorney General Tom Corbett and former Philadelphia federal prosecutor Patrick Meehan also are considering vying for the Republican nomination to succeed Ed Rendell as governor.

Gerlach, of Chester County, is considered a moderate on social issues, but touts himself as a fiscal conservative, saying he is devoted to cutting taxes and the bedrock Republican ideal of making government smaller.

"Our next governor must employ those values and put them to work in Harrisburg, and make Pennsylvania a competitive place to do business so we can create jobs and put families back to work," Gerlach said in his statement.

Rendell, a Democrat in his second of two four-year terms, cannot run again for the office because of constitutional term limits.

Gerlach's announcement has been expected for months after he announced in December that he was considering running.

Neither Corbett or Meehan have officially announced their candidacy.

Corbett has won two statewide elections for attorney general and is considered the favorite to win the GOP nomination. Some party officials have encouraged Meehan to avoid a primary battle with Corbett and run for lieutenant governor or Congress, although his spokeswoman said Tuesday he remains committed to exploring a run for governor.

In March, all three men showed up at the Pennsylvania Leadership Conference, a gathering of the state's conservative leaders, and sounded the same notes on fiscal conservatism.

Lowman Henry, a conservative Republican who heads the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research Inc. in suburban Harrisburg, said Gerlach's voting record on fiscal issues in Congress is spotty - he voted last October for the Bush administration's $700 billion bailout of the banking industry. Meanwhile Meehan and Corbett have no record to which they can point, he said.

Social conservatives, Henry said, are comfortable with Corbett, who has said he opposes abortion rights and favors the death penalty.

Corbett's power base is on the opposite side of the state in the comparably conservative Pittsburgh area, where he lives and served as the top federal prosecutor.

Like Gerlach, Meehan lives in southeast Pennsylvania, potentially forcing the men to compete closely for campaign donations, organizational support and voter loyalty if they both run.

Gerlach, a lawyer, grew up in Lawrence County on Pennsylvania's western border, a connection he has tried to highlight since the GOP's strength is growing in the region.

Before he was elected to Congress in 2002, Gerlach served 12 years in the state Legislature, four in the House then eight in the Senate representing Chester County.

With Chester County's Democratic registration increasing in recent years, Gerlach's election wins in the 6th Congressional District have been closely contested, earning him a reputation as a shrewd campaigner.

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