Call him Pennsylvania’s Don Quixote. Bob Guzzardi is crisscrossing the state on a seemingly impossible crusade of one: to take on what he calls “a state Republican Party that has abandoned its principles.”
Guzzardi is running against incumbent Governor Tom Corbett in May’s Republican primary. Why? Guzzardi answers that question with a question, “If not me, who?”
He’s got a point. Six months ago it seemed certain that Corbett, saddled with low approval ratings, would face a big name conservative challenger. Senator Pat Toomey was the name most commonly mentioned. But one by one, Republicans, including Toomey, bowed out and it seemed as if Corbett would run unchallenged in the primary. Then along came Guzzardi.
The 69-year-old Delaware County Republican has always been active in politics behind the scenes, financing conservative candidates. But without a conservative candidate to back in a run against Corbett, the successful businessman decided to throw his own hat into the governor’s race because he says, “Tom Corbett is a tax-and-spend Republican, which is to say, he’s a Democrat.”
To launch his campaign, Guzzardi bought a Nissan Rogue and headed west because “that’s where the Republican voters are.” He’s put 5,000 miles on the Rogue so far. When I spoke with the candidate by phone, he was preparing to go on a radio talk show in Pittsburgh. The night before, he attended the Reagan Day Dinner, a Republican gathering in Westmoreland County. Rarely is he permitted to speak — the state Republican Party sees to that — but he does get to meet Republican voters, who, he says, are fed up: “The disenchantment with Corbett and the Republican establishment is deep and wide.”
The Ardmore resident definitely has Corbett and the Republican establishment’s attention. Guzzardi says the state GOP has spent $60,000 attempting to keep him off the ballot. “Think about that,” he says, “the Republican party is spending money raised from Republican contributions to keep a Republican off the ballot instead of using it to defeat Democrats.” So far the efforts have failed; however a lower court ruling is being appealed.
But what about Guzzardi? Isn’t he helping the Democrats? Forget Don Quixote; many call Guzzardi Pennsylvania’s Pat Buchanan, the sole republican to run against George H.W. Bush in the 1992 Republican primaries. When Buchanan blasted Bush for going back on a promise not to raise taxes and won the New Hampshire primary, many believe he helped hand the Presidency to the Democrats and Bill Clinton. “That’s nonsense,” insists Guzzardi. “Show me one poll in the last year that has Tom Corbett beating any of the potential Democratic nominees. I’m not the reason Corbett is going to lose, he’s going to lose because of his policies.”
And Guzzardi, with no campaign staff and very little money spent, believes he is going to be the one who beats him. He sites three reasons for his optimism.
First, a poll of Republican voters released in late January showed Corbett leading Guzzardi 42% to 23%, with 35% undecided. “He’s been Governor for 3 years and 35 % of Republicans are undecided,” Guzzardi said. “What does that tell you?”
Second, Guzzardi points to recent political victories in the state by conservatives taking on established Republican candidates. Speaker of the Pennsylvania House Sam Smith recently announced that he will retire from his seat in Jefferson County rather than face another primary fight against “tea party sympathizer” Chris Dush. Smith beat Dush by fewer than 500 votes in 2012. Since then, Smith helped push through a $2.4 billion dollar transportation bill that raised gas prices in the state. In 2012, Altoona’s Richard Geist, the Republican chair of the Transportation committee, lost the seat he held for 34 years to Tea Party candidate John McGinnis.
“It’s all about taxes and broken promises,” is how Guzzardi explains the resentment he has experienced first hand from Republican voters across the state. And that is the third reason the conservative activist believes he can win: He has the right message. “I will never sign a budget that spends more than the year before. I will stop the tax credits to the wealthy, which amount to welfare for the rich. And I will never raise taxes.”
Guzzardi’s message is simple, conservative, and populist. But if no one hears it, what good does it do? The media, especially in the Philadelphia area, has either ignored or mocked Guzzardi’s candidacy. Even conservative talk show hosts like Dom Giordano have given Guzzardi the cold shoulder. “Biased,” “shallow,” “lazy,” and “incompetent” are words the candidate showers on the media, adding a “no offense.”
In the end, Guzzardi doesn’t think he needs the media, especially in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Forget Quixote and Buchanan, the Republican candidate likes to compare himself to the prophet Isaiah, who lamented that no one was listening and God told him, to keep talking and they will find you.
So Guzzardi will keep talking and believes enough Republicans will find him, “When I win the Republican nomination, it will be the biggest political story in the country.”
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