The Dick Thornburgh Papers

The collection

Re-election Campaign for Governor (1982)

Extent: 54 linear feet

The re-election campaign began in earnest early in the fall of 1981. At that point three of the first years as governor had passed and there were many agenda items that had been checked off. “Neil Peirce, in a piece titled ‘Pennsylvania’s Thornburgh: Extraordinary Governor,’ stated [Thornburgh’s] belief that ‘political capital can be made of unadorned good management’ and took note of ‘the Thornburgh style—the calm, deliberate method he brought to Three Mile Island and now applies to virtually every problem. ... If such a steady-as-you-go management is proving popular in Pennsylvania, why not elsewhere?’” (Evidence draft, p. 513). In spite of such praise and record of accomplishment, Thornburgh knew he still had goals to achieve, especially an all-important economic development plan, and knew at the outset there would be no landslide in the forthcoming election.

Three-term U.S. Congressman Allen Ertel of Williamsport announced his candidacy for governor in February 1982, and was quickly endorsed by the Democratic State Committee, as was James Lloyd for lieutenant governor. Ertel’s announcement speech “stated, falsely in both cases, that the state ‘had the second highest unemployment rate in the nation’ and that ‘while the federal government has cut income taxes, the Thornburgh administration has raised them.’ Such exaggerations and falsehoods were to characterize much of his campaign” (Evidence, p. 178). The nation was in recession at the time and Pennsylvania’s unemployment rate reached as high as 11.3 percent in September 1982. “We consistently responded to Ertel’s near-exclusive focus on the economy by noting the national character of our economic quandary, reminding voters that Pennsylvania was not ‘an island of unemployment in a sea of prosperity’” (Evidence, p. 179).

Thornburgh’s re-election campaign was kicked off in March 1982, and at each stop accomplishments of the first term were emphasized. Included in the list were “an end to corruption, an end to ‘credit-card government,’ a reduction in the bloated bureaucracy, a refusal to raise taxes, and the revitalization of PennDOT. ... In addition to continuing to work for better management, Thornburgh pledged to reform the welfare system, end the state’s liquor monopoly, and fight the burdensome and expensive twice-a-year auto inspections” (Evidence, p. 179). Television ads, available here online, primarily reviewed the record of Thornburgh’s first term.

Important endorsements were forthcoming and the first statewide poll, on October 1, conducted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, showed Thornburgh and Scranton with a lead of 56 percent to 33 percent. However, Reagan’s popularity was waning nationally in view of the economic recession, and this was a danger sign for Republican candidates. “The Wall Street Journal weighed in with a piece describing [Thornburgh] as ‘one of the political phenomena of this recession year’ and having run ‘a clean, efficient, and economical state government.’ The article included an interesting observation from Julius Uehlein, state AFL-CIO president: ‘If it weren’t for the economic issue, I imagine [Thornburgh] would be invincible’” (Evidence, p. 185). When all was said and done, virtually every major newspaper endorsed the Thornburgh-Scranton campaign across the commonwealth.

Keeping in mind the Democrats’ 678,000-voter registration advantage and a relentless attack by Ertel during this period of severe economic decline and increasing unemployment, there was reason for the Thornburgh camp to feel uneasy, despite its significant accomplishments. Perceptions of Thornburgh’s achievements were seriously affected by national discontent, and a Democratic tide swept the country that year. “Nationwide, the number of GOP governors tumbled from 23 to 16 as Democrats defeated nine incumbents ... and only three Republicans [in the largest states most affected by the recession] won. ... Of the three, [Thornburgh’s] winning margin was by far the largest” (Evidence, p. 189).

The campaign files here well document the message of accomplishment, with related backup material and TV ads proclaiming the facts. Also of note is the detailed opposition research, particularly about Ertel. The campaign news clippings specifically monitor the progress of the campaign, its ups and downs, odd incidents, endorsements, and ultimately the election results. The Market Opinion Research (MOR) polls are of particular interest as the campaign regularly tracked the race with its own polls. The files are divided as follows: "Campaign Plans and Announcement," "Achievements Binders," "Achievement Ads and Backup Information," "Campaign Positions," "Opposition Research—Potential Candidates," "Opposition Research—Ertel and Lloyd," "Campaign in Progress," "Events," "Press Files," "News Clippings," and "Postelection and Inaugural."

Of special interest to researchers will be the four scrapbooks assembled after the campaign, which track it in content as well as in the media. These were undertaken at the request of the candidate, immediately postelection, and, in fact, contain some material not available elsewhere, particularly some staff notes and memoranda. These are colorful and informative and include issues, media coverage, internal campaign staff comments, and notes, as well as campaign ephemera. These campaign scrapbooks have been reformatted for preservation purposes. All collection scrapbooks are enumerated in Section 21 here.


You are using an older browser that does not support current Web standards. Although this site is viewable in all browsers, it will look much better in a browser that supports Web standards.