PITTSBURGH -- If you stand Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell next to his opponent, Lynn Swann, you would think the burly Rendell is the former football star. The former two-term mayor of Philadelphia radiates the pugnacious energy of a linebacker for his Philadelphia Eagles. But the comparatively slender Swann, who speaks softly and moves with a dancer's silky smoothness, is the one who played nine seasons as a wide receiver for the Pittsburgh Steelers and hopes to become Pennsylvania's first African-American governor.
Swann can take encouragement from recent examples of famous amateurs -- e.g., Arnold Schwarzenegger, two Bush brothers -- making governor an entry-level political job. Rendell is an old pro, a political lifer who got his first job as Philadelphia's assistant district attorney in 1968 at age 24 from the DA, Republican Arlen Specter, who is now chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Governors can raise bushels of money from people whose interests intersect with the executive branch of state government, and many people flinch from giving to a challenger who might fail to unseat a sitting governor. Rendell campaign ads have been on the air for weeks. Swann says he will be on ``at a more traditional time," around Labor Day, by which time, Rendell says, he hopes the race will be over.
Swann will be outspent by a lot, but he hopes his celebrity will get voters' attention, and that he then can persuade them that a change in Harrisburg is required to create jobs and stimulate the economy. But the state's unemployment rate (4.8 percent) is not much higher than the nation's (4.6). And this is one of the few states where private-sector labor unions are still politically potent.
Pennsylvania politics have been roiled by the public's backlash against a pay raise the Legislature voted for itself and other officials. But so far the chief effect of this has been to arouse some conservative Republicans to help defeat Republicans complicit in the pay raise. And the sight of bumper stickers that say ``Remember the pay raise" suggests that people need to be reminded.
The state also has recently been a cockpit for culture wars: The town of Dover voted out of office all eight school board members seeking re-election because the board had tried to insinuate religion, in the form of ``intelligent design" theory, into high school biology classes, beginning with a mandatory decree that evolution ``is not a fact."