Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell makes a victory speech in Philadelphia last night, with his wife, Midge, right, and running mate Lt. Gov. Catherine Baker Knoll at far right.
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PHILADELPHIA -- Gov. Ed Rendell rolled to victory last night in his final political race, easily defeating former Steelers star Lynn Swann.
Mr. Rendell, a veteran of Philadelphia politics, easily outpolled Mr. Swann, a Republican whose campaign never gained momentum despite the star power the Hall of Fame receiver brought with him.
The governor emerged from his room at the Radisson Plaza/Warwick Hotel about 11:05 p.m. to greet the jubilant crowd, which chanted "Eddie, Eddie" and "Four More Years."
"Today Pennsylvanians voted overwhelmingly for a government willing to invest in creating opportunities for its people, a government willing to look to the future and create cutting edge technologies and homegrown energy, a government that cares about its people, and is willing to do whatever it takes to protect its most vulnerable citizens," Mr. Rendell said.
"I am truly honored by the overwhelming vote of confidence the people of Pennsylvania have given us. I will work every bit as hard and with as much optimism in the next four years as I have in the last four years."
The official election results were in many ways anti-climactic, due to the preceding months when poll after poll showed Mr. Rendell, the incumbent Democrat, leaving Mr. Swann, a political neophyte, in the dust by double-digit margins.
Even before the returns started rolling in last night, the mood in the grand ballroom of the hotel, where a couple hundred of Mr. Rendell's supporters watched the returns, was upbeat and confident.
Ronique Godwin, of Philadelphia, who was wearing a white baseball cap plastered with Rendell stickers, said she wasn't surprised by the ease of the incumbent's victory.
"Swann did not say what he would do. He talked about what Ed was not doing. That isn't the way to run a campaign," she said.
About Mr. Swann, she added, "Nobody really knows him. If I was not a football fan, I would not have known him."
Pearl Carpel, 87, also of Philadelphia, agreed that Mr. Swann wasn't well known here.
"They didn't market him at all," she said.
She added that is not the reason she voted for Mr. Rendell. She said she liked Mr. Rendell because "he kissed me on the cheek in Love Park" in Downtown Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, across the state, at the Hilton Pittsburgh, what candidates ordinarily bill as a "victory party" never really began for the Swann camp, nor from the beginning were there indications that they expected to hold one.
Mr. Swann's campaign rented only one-third of the ballroom at the hotel, with scattered tables. At its peak perhaps 100 guests and staff were in the room.
There was no band, no buffet, and a cash bar did meager business as Mr. Swann's supporters waited for their man to come downstairs from his suite to deliver the inevitable concession speech.
By the time Mr. Swann made a telephone call to the Rendell camp, the governor was on stage in Philadelphia, declaring victory. By that point, the crowd at Mr. Swann's reception had grown to about 150, erupting in cheers only twice: when Mr. Swann took the stage to concede, and earlier, when television reporter Mary Robb Jackson did a live report and they watched themselves on the TV screen in one corner of the room.
In a 15-minute long concession speech, Mr. Swann spoke of a campaign he said redirected the agenda in this year's election to the issues of government reform and tax relief.
"We moved to the front of the agenda important issues," he said. "It is clear that Harrisburg has got to change the way it does business. We lost a battle in an effort to change Harrisburg, but we must not lose the war."
One of the top Swann advisors, Mark Holman, former chief of staff to Gov. Tom Ridge, said the race seemed to turn in the early spring, when the Rendell camp pushed its first ads onto television and essentially hijacked the Swann platform.
"Gov. Rendell is talking about the Swann Agenda," Mr. Holman said. "Why, when you set the agenda it doesn't translate into enough is fascinating."
"Mid-terms are tough for the party in power, especially for the mid-term of the second term of the president," said state Attorney General Tom Corbett, the highest ranking Republican in the room.
One other notable Republican at the Hilton was former Lt. Gov. William Scranton III, the man Mr. Swann outmaneuvered for the nomination.
He called last night's results, both nationally and statewide, a wake-up call for the party.
"Are we going to stand for more than just being in power?" Mr. Scranton asked.
Mr. Rendell served as mayor of Philadelphia for most of the 1990s and remains very popular in the city and in four highly populated suburban counties, where voters gave him much of the support for his victory.
Some Democrats continue to talk about the possibility that Mr. Rendell, 62, might test the presidential waters in 2008, but he has consistently said that won't happen. He maintains this run for re-election would be his final race as a candidate and that he would fulfill the full four-year term as governor.