Unfortunately for Thornburgh, the average Pennsylvania voter turned out to be old, not-so-rich, not-so-white and apparently no longer so enthusiastic about the Republican Party. But even as incumbent Sen. Harris Wofford was running away with the race, the Republican band played on with upbeat music. And Thornburgh himself refused to call the loss a "defeat," instead terming it "a reversal." "I say reversal and not defeat because reversal comes in the numbers and defeat can only come in the soul," Thornburgh said. "And my soul is alive and kicking." But Thornburgh's smile, the music and the red, white and blue bunting decorating the hall were unable to make up for what even his supporters called campaign mistakes. Staffers were unwilling to predict a win for the former governor and U.S. Attorney General even early in the evening, well before the polls closed. After the carnage was apparent, one supporter in the downtown hotel went so far as to say he was not surprised Wofford won, only by the whopping margin of victory. And instead of the coronation address many of these supporters predicted just months ago, the earlier-than-expected concession the crowd was forced to listen to came out sounding more like a retirement speech. "For tonight, I stand to the sidelines with a pang of regret but with the satisfaction of knowing that we did the best we could," he said. At that point someone in the crowd shouted, "We love you Dick," and the crowd erupted into the loudest cheers of the evening. Unlike the star-studded reception for victor Wofford, the 500 to 600 person affair at Thornburgh's headquarters was characterized by an odd lack of luminaries, especially for a man who was one of the highest ranking members of the Bush administration just this summer. Several prominent state pols, like Auditor General Barbra Hafer and Attorney General Ernest Preate, milled about, but the Washington power brokers were notable only by their absence. And even these Pennsylvania Republicans were busy playing down the national implications of Thornburgh's stunning defeat. Hafer, who was trounced by Robert Casey in a failed bid for governor last year, said that the media "shouldn't make too much" of the implications of the loss for next year's presidential race. After visiting several polling places in Allegheny County, Hafer said she saw many Republican voters, especially older voters, crossing over to vote for Wofford because of the health care issue. And election returns backed Hafer's observations, with Wofford getting surprisingly strong support in traditionally GOP-leaning precincts around the state and in Philadelphia's upper-crust suburban counties. But Hafer said she wasn't concerned about the future of the party, in part because of the large contingent of Young Republicans present at campaign headquarters last night. "My daughter's at Penn State and there are a lot of enthusiastic young Republicans there," Hafer said. But at the downtown hotel ballroom, the hordes of Young Republicans were anything but enthusiastic. Any many of them blamed Thornburgh for not tapping their energies. Even before any results were in, 25-year-old Hans Siegel, a recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh Law School, seemed ready to throw in the towel. "I think Thornburgh has run a terrible campaign," said Siegel, who was active in the presidential campaigns of Ronald Reagan and George Bush. "The Republican Party has become a complacent party who has been in power for a while and is not afraid of losing." Even worse than Thornburgh's failure to take advantage of Republican sympathy among young, white voters was the fact that Wofford "trumped" Thornburgh on the issue of health care, Siegel said. "This state has the oldest population in the nation, second only to Florida," the Pitt law graduate said. Siegel, who originally hails from Wisconsin, said he was attracted to the Republican Party because of the GOP's competence in foreign policy issues and because of the sense of optimism about the future conveyed by Ronald Reagan. "Ronald Reagan was able to appeal to older traditionally Democratic voters with issues like family, crime and drugs," Siegel said. "Thornburgh didn't play those issues effectively, especially the crime issue. I mean, there's enough crime in Philadelphia to call in the U.S. Marshals on some days." Like Hafer, Siegel refused to call the Wofford-Thornburgh race a referendum on the domestic policies of President Bush. He said it was only a referendum for "old people" and that every issue is intertwined with foreign policy, especially in today's global marketplace. Norm Singleton, 25, another recent Pitt Law School graduate who hopes to get involved in politics and maybe even run for the state legislature, said he hopes Thornburgh's loss will send "an uncomfortable message to George Bush and the Republican Party establishment." "Americans are sick of an alternative party that gives them the Democratic Party, but less," Singleton said. "I hope the loss will encourage a right-wing challenger to Bush in '92. I only hope it's someone responsible and not an ex-Ku Klux Klan leader." "I think we got a good slap on the wrist," Siegel said. "Hopefully, George Bush's campaign won't do the same thing." Thornburgh himself told his supporters to "throw yourself into the next campaign for the next candidate." It is unclear what Thornburgh's political future will be. He has scheduled a press conference on the topic for tomorrow. But even if he stays out of politics, Thornburgh will still have a job. "He's going into a $500,000 law practice," said Al Neri, the press secretary for state Attorney General Ernie Preate. "Basically power breakfasts. He'll be okay."Comments powered by Disqus
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