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Pa. Democrat Is Getting GOP Support
5/3/2002 2:12:00 PM
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) Former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell's efforts to get Republicans in his hometown to switch parties and his energetic handshaking on the opposite end of the state appear to be paying off in his drive for the Democratic nomination for governor.

Just weeks before the May 21 primary, Rendell is locked in a tight race against state Auditor General Robert P. Casey Jr., who has the official backing of the state Democratic Party and whose father was governor in the 1980s and '90s.

A telephone poll conducted April 22-25 for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette showed Rendell slightly ahead, 45 percent to 40 percent, with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percentage points. A poll done by Millersville University in October had Casey up 10 points, with a margin of error of 6.7.

In recent weeks, Rendell has waged a direct-mail and telephone effort to convert Republicans and independents into at least temporary Democrats "Rendellicans," as they are being called so they can vote for him in the primary.

At least 19,000 voters in the five-county Philadelphia area and smaller numbers elsewhere switched their registration to Democrat by the April 22 deadline, according to preliminary figures. And Rendell, the former Democratic National Committee chairman, speculates that practically all the party-switchers in the Philadelphia area are his supporters.

Among the Rendellicans who urged other Republicans to help Rendell was Leonore Annenberg, the wife of publishing magnate and philanthropist Walter Annenberg. The Annenbergs contributed $150,000 to Rendell's campaign last year.

Harrisburg lobbyist A.J. Marsico, 28, also counts himself among the Rendellicans. Marsico, whose firm represented Philadelphia while Rendell was mayor, said he was motivated by Rendell's "energy and ideas."

The ebullient, 58-year-old Rendell has also been airing TV commercials outside his home city since January and has relied heavily on face-to-face campaigning in the state's western half, traveling in a bus adorned with billboard-size color photographs of his face.

Rendell is hugely popular in the Philadelphia area but is less known in the more rural central and western parts of the state, where the voters are more conservative and often hostile toward the big city. Pennsylvania has not elected a Philadelphian governor in nearly 90 years.

On the campaign trail, Rendell emphasizes his success in rescuing Philadelphia from the brink of bankruptcy.

The Casey campaign has relied more heavily on staged events and has aired a steady stream of TV commercials also outside of the expensive Philadelphia market that criticized Rendell, among other things, for problems that led to a recent state takeover of Philadelphia schools.

Despite Rendell's apparent momentum, Casey said he remains confident.

"I think there's still a huge percentage of people around the state who haven't decided yet," he said. "I don't think there's any question that it's a close race."

Whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee will face state Attorney General Mike Fisher, who is unopposed for the GOP nomination, in November.

The race is expected to be the most expensive in state history, surpassing the $35 million spent in the 1994 gubernatorial election. Casey and Rendell had already collected $25 million as of their April 1 campaign finance reports.

Casey, 42, boasts the nearly unanimous support of organized labor still angry about concessions that Rendell wrung from Philadelphia's municipal unions as well as the endorsement of the Democratic State Committee. And polls show him leading in the conservative regions outside of southeastern Pennsylvania.

Casey shares the anti-abortion views of his father, who was barred from speaking out against abortion at the 1992 Democratic National Convention. Rendell supports abortion rights.

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