Former Scranton cop Joe Peters’ entry into the Republican primary election race for the 11th Congressional District seat feels like his entry into the state attorney general’s race in 2016.
In 2016, Peters, a former state deputy attorney general and former assistant to the federal drug czar, jumped into the Republican attorney general’s race against state Sen. John Rafferty in mid February, only two months before the primary election and after the state party backed Rafferty, who had no opposition before Peters showed up.
Rafferty walloped Peters by more than 27 percentage points, 819,510 votes to 464,491. Peters beat him badly in Luzerne and Wyoming counties, both in the 11th, but you would expect that because Peters lives in Wyoming County and knows lots of Republicans in Luzerne.
Rafferty walloped Peters in the other seven counties either all or partly in the 11th.
With more than four months to go before the May 15 primary election, Peters, 60, of Lake Winola in Overfield Twp., thinks he still has plenty of time.
I think time, history and political realities work against him.
Four months isn’t long considering Peters’ opponents have a huge head start. Republicans Dan Meuser, Andrew Lewis and Rep. Stephen Bloom, R-199, Cumberland, all jumped in last year and have raised substantially more money than he has.
That means fewer donors left for Peters to tap.
We’ll know for sure what they’ve raised Jan. 31, but as of this morning, the Federal Election Commission website still didn’t even list a statement of organization for Peters’ campaign committee. His campaign spokesman said he filed online on Sunday. I’ll concede the FEC often lags in getting things on the web.
Second, Peters has lost his two previous tries at public office.
He ran respectably, but lost the 2004 state auditor general’s race to Democratic state Sen. Jack Wagner, who beat him by about 6.7 percent points, 2,786,909 votes to 2,430,648. Then, you have the loss to Rafferty in a candidacy that angered many Republicans.
Peters compounded that anger by endorsing Rafferty’s Democratic opponent for attorney general, former state representative and Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro.
In an interview Monday, Peters said he took a principled stand by endorsing a Democrat and said he’s unconcerned about it hurting him.
He accused Rafferty of “knowingly and unfairly” trying to tie him to former state attorney general Kathleen Kane’s scandalous tenure “knowing I had nothing to do with it.”
Rafferty never asked for his support or even called him after the primary. By comparison, Shapiro called him to ask policy advice and convinced him he planned to seriously tackle the state’s opioid crisis.
“I saw that issue as most important to us and I saw he was serious about taking it on,” Peters said.
Fair enough, but in a Republican primary, support for a liberal Democrat will probably prove problematic, especially in the 11th district, which President Donald Trump won by 24 percentage points last year.
Working for a Democrat, Kane, doesn’t help either even if Peters left her office – he was a communications guy – before she really leapt into the hijinks that brought her down.
Peters’ presence in the race could actually hurt Meuser, a Kingston Twp., Luzerne County, resident, who needs all the votes he can get in the northern end of the district, Wyoming County included. Meuser needs them because Dauphin in the district’s southern end has about as many Republican voters as Luzerne and that’s where Lewis lives.
That ought to make a lot of Meuser’s Republican friends really happy.
Of course, these are unusual times. I never thought Trump could win Pennsylvania and he did. Maybe Joe Peters sees something no one else does heading into this race. Maybe voters see him as a better qualified candidate than the others.
“I’m running because Congress doesn’t need another businessman or another legislator… It needs someone who has been immersed in these problems their whole career,” Peters said in his campaign announcement.
Maybe he’s right.
— BORYS KRAWCZENIUK