2 Political Junkies might suggest this is the sort of thing that only happens in Bizarro World, but there really is a write-in campaign going on for former mayoral candidate Franco "Dok" Harris in the 4th Congressional District. A group of progressive Democrats -- who have been increasingly disenchanted with incumbent Jason Altmire -- launched an 11th-hour campaign to write in Harris' name as a contender on the Democratic ballot.
Initiated by the Quaker Valley Democrats, the effort literally got off the ground yesterday, and has been carried out largely through e-mail. Those supporting it are under no illusions that Harris, son of football great Franco Harris, will best Altmire. The more realistic goal is to encourage Harris -- or somebody on the left -- to challenge Altmire in 2012.
Stephanie Dangel, a member of Quaker Valley Dems, acknowledges, "I don't think Harris had any plans to run." In fact, to the best of my knowledge, Harris doesn't even live in the district. You may recall that last November, Harris was one of two independents campaign challenging Pittsburgh mayor Luke Ravenstahl. And it turned out that for years before that run, he'd been been registered to vote in Sewickley -- where his parents live -- despite having lived in the city for several years. (It may be worth noting that Dangel supported Harris' mayoral run.)
So what's going on?
"We've been looking for someone to run against Jason for awhile" as an independent, Dangel says. "But no one was willing to do it, because they think they'll undermine Altmire and help the Republicans win." Local AFL-CIO Jack Shea mulled a challenge after Altmire voted against health-care reform, and Dangel says progressives reached out to New Castle businesswoman Georgia Berner as well. Berner lost to Altmire in the 2006 Democratic primary, when he first campained for the office. But while she and Harris were rumored as potential challengers earlier this year, neither of them jumped into the race.
Putting Harris on the ballot anyway is a protest gesture, Dangel says. The hope is that a bunch of write-in votes for Harris "could get somebody to run against Altmire in the future" -- whether Harris or someone else.
In the short term, Dangel adds, it's a way to send a message to Altmire. Dangel says she understands the "difficult position" Altmire was in when he voted against health-care reform: What "put a lot of us over the edge" was Altmire's support for an anti-terrorism bill that could strip suspected terrorist symapthizers of their U.S. citizenship. Dangel calls the measure "gratuitous and stupid."
There's little question that Altmire will cruise to victory tonight, of course. It remains to be seen whether the Quaker Valley effort amounts to anything more than a scattered "Mickey Mouse" constituency. But Dangel predicts that no matter tonight's outcome, Altmire may be in trouble this fall -- "particularly if Keith Rothfus wins" in the Republican primary today. "I have never seen so many campaign signs in all my life as I'm seeing for Rothfus in Sewickley," she says. That intensity of support is particularly notable, given the general lack of enthusiasm about most of the other candidates on the ballot.
Including Altmire himself, says Dangel. "A lot of my progressive friends say they can't imagine voting for him, let alone volunteering for him."