Larry Ceisler on Politics

As action heats up for this fall’s Senate and gubernatorial elections, our Founder lays out the roadmaps for Republicans and Democrats aiming to capture PA’s voters.

Map of Pennsylvania counties on a TV screen

We have entered a huge political year in Pennsylvania, with hotly contested races for open seats in the governor’s office and U.S. Senate. As Republican and Democratic candidates for both races gear up their campaigns, Ceisler Media Founder Larry Ceisler sat with Senior Consultant Glen Macnow to discuss what it takes to win in this diverse and changing state.


Q: “The conventional wisdom has been that to win a statewide race in Pennsylvania, a candidate essentially needs to win three or four disparate regional races — or at least most of them. Is that still true?”


LC: “Not as much as it used to be. Yes, it is a diverse state. But there have been big population shifts — loss of people in the west, northwest and northeast part of the state, combined with an increase in southeast Pennsylvania and part of the mid-state.”


“So at the end of the day, you have to play to the population centers and do especially well in one area. Or, you need to run respectably throughout — don’t get clobbered anywhere and make sure you still win big in your strong areas.”


Q: “Is it a different formula for Democrats and Republicans?”

LC: “For Republicans right now it’s simple: Get Trump’s endorsement. The formula is to prove yourself as a true conservative who Trump would approve of. And it’s a tricky game because you’ve got to be loyal and deferential in the primary, but whoever wins that then has to pivot and be more moderate to win the general. The GOP primary winners for Senate and governor will need to keep Trump in a corner where he can be useful without going too far out there.”


“Conversely, any Democrat running for statewide office can’t be too progressive early on, because it won’t work in a general election. That’s the beauty of (Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate) Josh Shapiro — he can just be who he is.”


Q: “In the governor’s race, there was a big endorsement this week. The Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Commerce of Entrepreneurs — who have been a conduit for donations from billionaire Jeffrey Yass — came out for Bill McSwain, the US Attorney for Eastern District of PA under former President Trump.”


LC: “A commitment from Jeff Yass to McSwain is a game changer in that primary. Yass is one of the most prolific political contributors in the country. His wealth makes (GOP Senate candidates) Dr. Oz and Dave McCormick seem like paupers.”


Q: “So for Republicans is it all still about Trump in 2022? Can a candidate win without straight adherence?”


LC: “We’re going to find out in the primaries. Will any of those candidates try to create a different lane? Maybe we saw it when (Philadelphia attorney) George Bochetto announced for Senate recently. He said flat out that Biden won in 2020, that’s it. No debate. So that’s the route he’s going.”


Q: “I used to hear, mostly before Ed Rendell became governor, that it was very tough for a Philadelphia candidate to win statewide election. Is that still true?”


LC: “That has changed because the population has changed. Back in the day, Philadelphia suburbs were largely Republican. So a Philadelphia Democrat was running bare. If you had ‘Philadelphia’ under your name it didn’t help you at all outside of city limits. Now, the suburbs are blue so that is no longer a disadvantage.”


Q: “Do you have any estimate what it will cost to win U.S. Senate seat here this year?”


LC: “We will not be able to count all the money spent by the candidates and all of the committees and groups weighing in. The total will run in the hundreds of millions.”


“It’s January and that race is already active, because the formula is still to get your media out early, establish name ID and have your politics in order to make a strong early case.”


Q: “Speaking of media, two Republican Senate candidates, Mehmet Oz and David McCormick — neither of whom lived in the state in recent years — made some big TV buys in January. What did you see in their ads?”


LC: “Oz’s ads are like infomercials — very bland, not saying much, certainly not talking about being from Pennsylvania.”


“I saw two in a row for Dave McCormick featuring how he hunted deer as a boy, played football, grew up on a farm with Christmas trees and kept his childhood friends. Deer hunting may play in parts of the state, like where I grew up in Washington County, but I’m not sure how many boys from the Main Line took off school to hunt buck.”


“McCormick is trying too hard to prove he’s from Pennsylvania. It tells me his campaign’s gut instinct is that his background makes him vulnerable. He’s a hedge fund guy who worked in the Bush administration, is soft on China and, until recently, lived in Connecticut. His campaign people must anticipate he’s going to be attacked for that, so they’re trying to present his Pennsylvania bona fides. I think they’re trying too hard.”


Q: “One more thing. I read that Pittsburgh is among four cities — along with Nashville, Salt Lake City and Milwaukee named as finalists to host the 2024 Republican National Convention. How good a chance does Pittsburgh has?


LC: “Any time a city has a chance to showcase itself nationally, that’s a positive. Pittsburgh is no different. For Republicans and their elected officials to have a first-hand look at the good things going on in Pittsburgh is a net plus, no matter the politics.”

Larry Ceisler professional headshot, co-founder and CEO of Ceisler Media & Issue Advocacy

Larry Ceisler is founder of Ceisler Media and Issue Advocacy.

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