Jay Paterno’s stumbling first foray into politics ended when he withdrew late last month from the Democratic primary for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor.
That left G. Terry Madonna and other political pundits with yet another race for the state’s second-highest elected office that generates little energy or excitement.
Madonna, a professor of public affairs at Franklin & Marshall College and one of the state’s best-known analysts, is left to wonder about the buzz that could have been had Paterno stayed in the hunt and made it through to the November ballot.
“He was a game-changer in many ways,” Madonna said of Paterno, who pulled out of the race amid an opponent’s challenge of his campaign signatures.
Paterno, the son of legendary Penn State head coach Joe Paterno, has also been linked to possible runs for both the U.S. House and state Senate.
Jay Paterno was an assistant on his father’s coaching staff until the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke in November 2011.
NCAA sanctions in 2012 stripped 111 Penn State football wins from the Joe Paterno era. The Paterno family and others have sued the NCAA in a bid to reverse the sanctions, while Jay contends the penalties and the Freeh report alleging a Sandusky cover-up have kept him from landing another good coaching job.
But politics beckoned, at least briefly.
“If Jay Paterno had been on there, oh my gosh, that would have been what everybody is forced to talk about on the campaign trail,” Madonna said. “It would have been, ‘We don’t care what you think about abortion. We don’t care what you think about education.’ ”
Madonna and Michael Young, a Penn State professor of politics and public affairs, co-author a column that appears regularly on the CDT’s Opinion page.
Madonna also leads Franklin & Marshall’s research and polling division, which tracks public views of issues and candidates.
He has charted and analyzed elections since the 1970s era of Gov. Milton Shapp and sidekick Ernie Kline.
Madonna recalled Erie Republican Tom Ridge getting help with southern votes from lieutenant governor candidate Mark Schweiker, who then became governor when Ridge was named the first U.S. head of homeland security after Sept. 11.
And Madonna remembered powerhouse Democrat Ed Rendell, a former Philadelphia district attorney, finding himself on a ticket with lieutenant governor primary winner Catherine Baker Knoll, of Pittsburgh.
“(Rendell) didn’t want her,” Madonna said. “After they were elected he didn’t give her anything to do.”
The political analyst said candidates for lieutenant governor are usually “people who are not well known outside their regional bailiwick.”
Could most Pennsylvanians even name our sitting lieutenant governor? Madonna wondered. It’s Republican Jim Cawley, by the way, and he’s unopposed in the primary.
The remaining Democratic candidates for the office — Mark Critz, Brad Koplinski, Brandon Neuman, Mark Smith and Mike Stack — are all solid individuals with some political chops, but little in the way of statewide name recognition.
“The Penn State thing would never die,” Madonna said. “You could not have been in a room and not have the first question be about the Penn State situation. Nobody cares about the lieutenant governor candidates’ positions on issues.”
In handicapping what’s left of the field, Madonna gave Critz, a former U.S. House member from Johnstown, a slight edge over the others. Critz has a political network from many years as the late U.S. Rep. John Murtha’s district director.
Koplinski, a Harrisburg city councilman, successfully challenged Paterno’s ballot signatures.
Neuman and Stack are both state legislators, from Pennsylvania’s southwestern and southeastern corners, respectively. Smith is a Bradford County commissioner.
Paterno, meanwhile, was reportedly urged by some Democrats to make a run for Republican Jake Corman’s state Senate seat in a write-in campaign.
At a local party gathering on April 5, Paterno said, “That’s something other people are talking about. ”
Of his premature exit from the lieutenant governor’s race, he said: “Right when you come out of something like that, your first thought isn’t, ‘I want to get back in this.’ ”
A Jay Paterno-Jake Corman showdown for the Senate would have matched up two men involved in lawsuits against the NCAA. Corman sued the organization in a bid to keep Penn State’s $60 million fine in Pennsylvania.
What a delicious campaign that would have been.
Now we’re left with a lieutenant governor’s race with no noteworthy issues and no candidates with Paterno-like fame or charisma.
“For the brief time he was in,” Madonna said, “it made for the most interesting lieutenant governor race I can remember.”
Chip Minemyer is the executive editor of the Centre Daily Times. He can be reached at 231-4640. Follow him on Twitter @MinemyerChip.