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Another thing that may make a difference is that Swann is accustomed to winning. At Junipero Serra High, the boys' Catholic school outside San Francisco, his football and basketball teams almost never lost. ( Swann jumped center, even though he was a couple of inches under six feet.) He won a Rose Bowl as a Trojan and went four for four in Super Bowls. And his behind-the-scenes strategist is Washington, D.C.-- based lawyer and lobbyist Mark Holman, who helped turn Tom Ridge from an obscure small-town congressman into the governor of Pennsylvania.
Rendell, who begins his day with the sports section and ends it with SportsCenter, says Swann is one of the men who turned wide receiver into a position played by "acrobats." If Swann were to beat Rendell, he would be a pioneer of a different sort: the first black governor of Pennsylvania and the first elected black Republican governor in U.S. history. Republican National Committee chairman Ken Mehlman and President George W. Bush are watching the race closely, and if Swann stays close to Rendell in the polls, many millions of dollars will flow from the RNC's war chest to his campaign. A recent statewide poll had Swann trailing Rendell by three points. within a field goal read the front-page headline of the Philadelphia Daily News.
Swann had raised approximately $1.6 million by the end of last year. His biggest campaign contributor was Maggie Hardy Magerko, who gave him $100,000. Magerko is the president of 84 Lumber, a construction-supply chain founded by her father, Joe Hardy, a leader in western Pennsylvania's business community. Swann has played in the pro-am and spoken at dinners during a PGA Tour event sponsored by 84 Lumber and is a friend of the Hardy family.
Like many Republican campaign donors in Pennsylvania, Swann is a staunch conservative. He wants to lower state taxes, implement the death penalty and protect the rights of gun owners. He's pro-life, which, in the event that he is elected, may be meaningful if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court and state governments end up determining the legality of abortion. Swann also opposes the slot machines that are coming to Pennsylvania racetracks and other sites later this year courtesy of legislation promoted and signed by Governor Rendell.
Who knew Swann was so ambitious? His mother, Mildred, his wife and only a few others. Until he quit in January, Swann spent 29 years at ABC-TV, many of them as a nearly invisible sideline football reporter. What he wanted was to be the host of Good Morning America, for which he became an occasional contributor in 1995. He had acting dreams too, but that career topped out with an episode of the TV melodrama Hotel in 1985.
What he's attempting now--trying to become governor with no management experience--is way more audacious. Athletes turned legislators are common enough: Jim Bunning and Bill Bradley in the U.S. Senate and Steve Largent and Jack Kemp in the House, to name just a few. Experience matters less when your main task is to vote on laws. But a governor is the chief executive and a deal maker. The job takes game. Chris Matthews has the right name for his MSNBC show on politics, Hardball, and Swann made a savvy move when he backed Matthews's brother Jim, the county commissioner of densely populated Montgomery County, outside Philadelphia, for the Republican endorsement for lieutenant governor. Rendell won Montgomery County by more than 93,000 votes in 2002, but having Matthews as his running mate could help Swann cut into the incumbent's margin there this time around. Swann's campaign manager is Ray Zaborney, a young party operative and a political junkie.
Even if Swann upsets Rendell in November, winning the election and governing are two different things, as Jesse Ventura discovered in Minnesota and Arnold Schwarzenegger found out in California. Pennsylvania has 80,000 state employees, a $25 billion budget and more than 12 million residents. It's a small country, just about.