PITTSBURGH — ATTORNEY General Dick Thornburgh is coming home to Pennsylvania to win a political race and polish his tarnished reputation. He won't find it easy. On Tuesday, President Bush announced that Mr. Thornburgh would run in Pennsylvania's special Senate election in November. The election will determine who will fill out the term of the late Sen. John Heinz, who died in a plane crash in April.
Thornburgh has some huge advantages.
As a former two-term governor here, he is well-known for cleaning up corruption in state politics. Since this will be the nation's only Senate race this year, Republicans will be able to focus a lot of resources on the race. And Thornburgh's opponent, Democrat Harris Wofford, is barely known in Pennsylvania.
Thornburgh "is the best known and probably the strongest candidate that the Republicans could put up," says Jack Nagel, a political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "He certainly has a tremendous advantage in name recognition."
The day Mr. Wofford was named to serve as interim US senator, one Philadelphia TV station got his name wrong.
Nevertheless, political analysts here believe Thornburgh is vulnerable because of his rocky tenure as US attorney general.
Four of his aides left the Justice Department under a cloud. One of them was sentenced to 16 months in prison for lying about his cocaine use on his job application. Another resigned after admitting he leaked false information that US Rep. William Gray was part of a federal investigation involving his office.
Thornburgh has also been criticized for conflict of interest in the Exxon Valdez oil spill. While negotiating a settlement with Exxon, he owned $32,000 worth of stock in two oil companies with a financial stake in the outcome. Yet, Thornburgh waited until five days before the settlement to request a waiver.
Former aides to Thornburgh describe him as a man of integrity; Pennsylvania Democrats are challenging that reputation.
"You see a pattern of failure to differentiate between private and public interests," says Tony May, executive director of the state Democratic Party.
Political analysts expect a very negative race because Democrats will have to tear down Thornburgh's Mr. Clean reputation in order to make up for his advantage in name recognition.
"You take that [reputation] away from him and he's vulnerable as a candidate," says Michael Young, a political science professor at Penn State University. "I think it's going to be a tighter race than most people anticipate."
Wofford was clearly not the Democrats' first choice. Many potential candidates, including Chrysler head Lee Iacocca, turned down the chance to run, in part perhaps because Thornburgh appeared so strong. Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey finally turned to Wofford, his labor and industry secretary and former state Democratic chairman.
Wofford has strong ties to the Pennsylvania and Democratic elite. He is a former president of Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., served as civil rights advisor to President Kennedy, and was a founder of the Peace Corps.
Pennsylvania Democrats have the edge in registered voters, and statewide races are always competitive. During his bid for reelection as governor in 1982, Thornburgh was widely favored to overwhelm a lesser-known candidate. He won, but by a hair.