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With Republicans sweeping recent statewide congressional elections, and contenders from both parties confirming their candidacy in the upcoming gubernatorial race, it's anyone's guess which candidate, and which party, will capture Pennsylvania's highest office next year.

On the Democratic side, two-term former Philadelphia mayor Ed Rendell will face Auditor General Bob Casey, Jr., and analysts predict a heated and expensive battle between the two leading up to the primary in May.

For the Republicans, state Attorney General Mike Fisher and state Treasurer Barbara Hafer will vie to keep the governor's office in the hands of the GOP. They are the only two Republicans who have officially announced their candidacy, and while there is a possibility that more will step forward, no one else has made a clear move to succeed Gov. Mark Schweiker.

Rendell, who declared his candidacy yesterday, has been playing up his success and popularity as mayor of Philadelphia. Candidates from heavily Democratic Philadelphia rarely fare well in the rest of the state, which tends to be more conservative.

Casey is not only from the western part of Pennsylvania, but his father was a two-term governor himself, making Casey a household name in much of the state.

"Each candidate brings political strengths to the campaign," Casey's brother and spokesman Matt Casey said. "We have broad support across the state, and at this point, Ed is more of a regional candidate. Having said that, given what will be a... long campaign, each candidate will be well known, and the race will be decided on the issues, as it should be."

While Rendell recently received the endorsement of the Philadelphia building trades unions, which credit him with bringing much-needed construction jobs to the city during his time as mayor, Casey claims the support of most of the other unions, which in the past have supported Rendell.

"Bob Casey has been endorsed by AFL-CIO, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, which is a federation of teachers, and virtually every endorsement that has been competed for we've been able to get," Matt Casey said.

In addition to the AFL-CIO, which encompasses several different unions statewide, Casey has also received the endorsement of the Fraternal Order of Police in Philadelphia, and Casey also claimed the support of several elected officials in the city, though Matt Casey declined to specify which ones.

Casey's campaign team is also hoping that the current crisis facing the city's public schools will play out in their favor.

"I think that voters across the state will increasingly be asking the following question: how can a man who brought the Philadelphia schools to their knees put Pennsylvania back on its feet?" Casey said. "That's going to be an issue in this race, and it's part of the reason Bob has received such enthusiastic support from teachers."

"We do also believe that it speaks to a lack of leadership in Philadelphia in the 1990s," he added, referring to the decade during which Rendell was mayor.

For the last two terms, Republican Tom Ridge held the state's top office until recently stepping down to head the federal Office of Homeland Security. Schweiker, Ridge's lieutenant governor, took over as governor, but has no plans to seek re-election in 2002.

Some see GOP control of the statehouse as a disadvantage to Republican hopefuls in 2002, as Pennsylvania has a 30-year history of voting a party out of the governor's office after eight years.

Penn Political Science Department Chairman Jack Nagel said that because there is technically no incumbent in this race, and Schweiker will be stepping down at the end of the term, "it's a good year for the Democrats, potentially a good year, and that's why we're seeing such a heated competition" between the Democratic candidates.

But he also noted that "the cycle could end."

Fisher made his official announcement on Aug. 16, with Ridge offering his endorsement.

Fisher spokesman Kent Gates said that his campaign team is not daunted by the party switch cycle, saying "streaks are made to be broken."

Gates pointed to the numerous Republican victories in recent statewide elections as a sign of Republican strength in the race for governor.

Both Fisher and Hafer are expected to face problems in Philadelphia because both are from the western part of the state, and the city traditionally votes Democratic.

Hafer's campaign officials have not been discouraged by Ridge's endorsement of Fisher, noting that Hafer has received the support of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, which has endorsed a primary candidate for both parties.

According to spokesman Tim Ireland, Hafer has also been endorsed by the firefighters' union in Philadelphia, which he thinks "is big feather in her hat."

"A lot of the firefighters are Republicans and live in Republican pockets of the city," Ireland said, noting that they endorsed Hafer during her campaign for treasurer as well.

Hafer does not appear to be very focused on Philadelphia, however.

"There are a decent number of Republicans in Philadelphia, but it's probably not the first place [a Republican candidate] would go," Ireland said.

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