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Scranton drops out of race for governor

| Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2006

Former Lt. Gov. Bill Scranton quit the governor's race Tuesday, leaving Pro Football Hall of Famer Lynn Swann as the likely Republican nominee to take on Democratic incumbent Ed Rendell this fall.

Only days before the Republican State Committee's planned meeting in Harrisburg to anoint a GOP candidate for the May 16 primary, Scranton, 58, of Lackawanna County, issued a statement acknowledging defeat before the race had begun.

"Our campaign is strong, but not strong enough to defeat a candidate who has received the near-unanimous backing of state and national party leaders," Scranton said.

Swann, 53, a former Steelers wide receiver from Sewickley Heights, now appears to be uncontested for the state committee's endorsement Saturday. He would be the first black candidate to receive either party's backing.

Also seeking the Republican nomination is Jim Panyard, 62, of Lebanon County, a former president of the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association.

Rendell, 62, of Philadelphia, is expected to seek a second term.

Despite being a novice political candidate, Swann has been riding a huge wave of momentum -- including invaluable free publicity during Sunday's Super Bowl XL and as master of ceremonies at yesterday's parade and rally for the returning champion Steelers.

He had earlier made unexpected gains to consolidate support among Republican leaders statewide.

Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Jubelirer, R-Altoona, a supporter of Swann's, said he concluded early on that Swann would be "Ed Rendell's worst nightmare."

Swann is "the best communicator I've heard since Ronald Reagan," Jubelirer said.

He said Scranton "did the right thing" by avoiding "an electoral beating."

Tricia Enright, Rendell's campaign manager, said Rendell "will take his message of accomplishments and vision for the future directly to Pennsylvania voters."

"Our current governor thinks Pennsylvania is as good as it can be," Swann said. "I know we can do better, and I look forward to a spirited campaign revolving around the issues important to Pennsylvania families."

"This (election) is a referendum on Rendell," said G. Terry Madonna, political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster County. For now, Rendell "shows weak job performance numbers outside of Southeastern Pennsylvania."

Swann's likely running mate would be Montgomery County Commissioner Jim Matthews, brother of MSNBC Hardball's Chris Matthews, Jubelirer said.

State Rep. Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, also is running for lieutenant governor. Jubelirer said he believes Turzai will drop out in a show of party unity. Turzai could not be reached for comment.

Only a week ago, Scranton said he would push for the state committee to refrain from any endorsement and allow an open primary. Scranton, who was lieutenant governor during the 1980s administration of Gov. Dick Thornburgh, had vowed to stay in the race even if Swann got the endorsement.

The past week, however, put Swann's football fame into a prime-time spotlight that few political candidates could dream of sharing.

In advance of Sunday's Super Bowl showdown between the Steelers and Seattle Seahawks, replays of Swann's clutch catches in previous Super Bowls were shown in national television spots hyping the big game. Prior to kickoff in Detroit, Swann was one of a select brotherhood of former Super Bowl most valuable players who dashed onto the field in the nationally televised pre-game hype.

Swann, who played in four Super Bowl victories for the Steelers, was the MVP in Super Bowl X in 1976, when the Steelers beat the Dallas Cowboys, 21-17.

"This is phenomenal," Swann said yesterday as he walked from the North Side to the rally Downtown. "This is like back in the '70s -- except now many of the adults out here were the children of Steelers fans who came out with their parents to celebrate. ... It's just such a great thing for the city."

Rendell was in Pittsburgh yesterday to congratulate the Steelers, but didn't speak at the rally that drew an estimated 250,000 jubilant football fans.

Joseph DiSarro, chairman of the political science department at Washington & Jefferson College, said the free publicity for Swann obviously boosted his political stock and presented the Scranton campaign - and possibly Rendell - with a tough act to follow.

"A candidate could never purchase enough TV time or space in newspapers to counteract this kind of positive image-building that Swann has had," DiSarro said.

On the other hand, Swann "will rapidly reach the point where that won't matter as much as how he addresses the real issues facing the (state)," said Jerry Shuster, a political communications professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

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