GOP conservatives topple incumbents…BIG SPENDERS TOSSED OUT!

See New York Times article here.

G.O.P. Conservatives Topple Veteran State Lawmakers in Pennsylvania
May 18, 2006

WASHINGTON, May 17 — A revolt among Pennsylvania conservatives gained national attention on Wednesday after challengers toppled at least 12 state lawmakers they deemed insufficiently committed to small government and fiscal restraint.

Among those losing their positions in a Republican primary on Tuesday were the two State Senate leaders, Robert C. Jubelirer and David J. Brightbill, who had 56 years of incumbency between them and vastly outspent their upstart rivals.

Facing a tire salesman with little political experience, Mr. Brightbill, the majority leader, outspent his opponent nearly 20 to 1 and still captured just 37 percent of the vote.

“My campaign has always been about making Republicans Republican again,” the winner, Mike Folmer of Lebanon, said. “Republicans have controlled the Legislature here since 1995, but the size, the scope and even the ineffectiveness of our government has continued to grow.”

The results drew cheers from conservatives nationally, many of whom voice similar criticisms of Republican incumbents in Washington and have threatened their own revolts.

The Fiscal Restraint Coalition, a network of organizations calling for smaller government, sent out an e-mail message saying the election showed “that the fiscal restraint message is a winner.”

Captain’s Quarters, a conservative blog, said the election would “serve notice on the G.O.P. that it cannot take conservative votes for granted.”

But others, while celebrating the results, saw danger for the party.

“It shows a very worrisome, elevated level of anger and frustration on the part of Republicans,” said Pat Toomey, president of the Club for Growth, which supports low taxes and small government. “In a primary, they can vent that by voting for challengers. The problem is, in a general election they stay home. It’s a very worrisome sign for Republicans in Washington.”

In Pennsylvania, the incumbents’ fall was extraordinary. No Senate leader had lost a primary challenge since 1964.

“And we took out two last night,” said Matthew J. Brouillette, president of the Commonwealth Foundation, a conservative group in Harrisburg.

Pennsylvania conservatives had long accused the Republican leaders of the Legislature of being too quick to go along with Gov. Edward G. Rendell, a Democrat. In two of the last three state budgets, Mr. Brouillette said, the Legislature approved more spending than Mr. Rendell had requested.

The smoldering anger among Pennsylvania conservatives caught fire last summer when the Republican-controlled Legislature approved pay increases of up to 54 percent for elected officials in all three branches of government.

That was the Alamo,” Mr. Folmer said. After an outpouring of criticism, the lawmakers rescinded the increase, but they could not rescind the anger.

In some races, the groundwork for a primary challenge had been laid. John Eichelberger, who defeated Mr. Jubelirer, the Senate president pro tempore, had been contemplating the race even before the increase in pay.

In doing so, Mr. Eichelberger said, he had the support of several wealthy Pennsylvanians, including Bob Guzzardi, a member of the Club for Growth who commissioned a poll of the district in the Altoona region by Kellyanne Conway, a pollster here.

After entering the race, Mr. Eichelberger received an endorsement from Mr. Toomey, who also helped him raise money. Mr. Toomey, a former congressman, is prominent among Pennsylvania conservatives for having nearly beat a moderate Republican, Arlen Specter, in a United States Senate primary in 2004.

Mr. Eichelberger, along with three other conservative challengers, created a campaign document, “Promise to Pennsylvania,” modeled after the “Contract With America” that the Republicans used in 1994 to capture Congress.

It called for stricter regulation of lobbyists, term limits, tort reform and the vote of three-fifths of the Legislature before raising taxes. Three of the four signers won. The fourth is clinging to a narrow lead.

“People are just tired of Republicans who don’t represent the bedrock conservative values of the party,” Mr. Eichelberger said. “They’re Republican in name only. If you’re going to be a Republican, be a Republican.”

Mr. Eichelberger noted that Mr. Jubelirer raised $1.3 million and had the support of the state’s Republican Party.

Neither Mr. Jubelirer nor Mr. Brightbill returned telephone calls on Wednesday. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review quoted Mr. Jubelirer as saying the election was “a dramatic earthquake.”

At least 11 other Republican incumbents lost, and several elections were too close to call.

In a House contest, State Representative Thomas L. Stevenson of Pittsburgh was defeated by Mark Harris, a 21-year-old student.

While conservatives were cheering, G. Terry Madonna, an election analyst at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa., said the results could cheer Democrats, as well.

Dr. Madonna pointed to a special election in Chester County, outside Philadelphia, where a Democrat, Andrew Dinniman, won a Senate seat in a district dominated by Republicans. As the party moves right, Dr. Madonna said, “the moderate Republicans may vote for Democrats now.”

On blogs and talk radio shows, conservatives have been engaged in an intramural debate about whether to work hard in the November Congressional elections or sit them out to punish Republican Party leaders.

“The message here is get engaged,” said Bridgett Wagner of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative policy group here. “This will give encouragement to those who might have been tempted to sit on the sideline.”

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company