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If A Candidate Switches Parties, Do DelVal Voters Care?

GOP attorney general candidate Rep. Craig Williams (R-Chester/Delaware) wants primary voters to know he’s a loyal, lifelong Republican.

And based on how often he mentions it in his campaign, he really wants GOP voters to know that his opponent, York County District Attorney Dave Sunday, isn’t.

“I’m a Republican. I have been my whole life,” Williams said last month during a televised debate. “My opponent changed his party when he was 37 years old, and I can say that I have never voted for Obama and Joe Biden.”

And Williams’ campaign manager Mark Campbell told DVJournal that Sunday’s “troubling record on public safety, evidenced by York’s murder rate surpassing Philadelphia’s, casts doubt on the authenticity of his 2013 switch to the Republican Party.”

But Sunday, not Williams, received the endorsement of the Pennsylvania state GOP. And then there’s the bigger question: Do Pennsylvania politicians pay a price for being party switchers?

Craig Snyder should know. He worked for one of the Keystone State’s most high-profile affiliation flippers, the late U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter.

Snyder says Sunday’s switch could be a problem in the primary.

“Given Pennsylvania’s archaic and unfair closed primary system, the vast majority of the small number of voters who participate in primaries are the hyper-partisans in each of our two major parties. Unsurprisingly, those voters are hostile to party switchers. They prize team and ideological loyalty above all else, and that makes accepting even a convert to the cause unappealing.”

Specter abandoned a long career as a Republican and joined the Democratic Party in 2009 after polls showed, as National Review political reporter Jim Geraghty put it at the time, “former Congressman Pat Toomey would beat him like a drum in a GOP primary.”

Instead, Specter used the backing he got from the biggest names in the Pennsylvania Democratic Party to go on and lose the Democratic primary instead.

“Sen. Specter’s experience with party-switching should serve as a flashing red light to others who might consider the same course. He had the assurances of the president, the vice president, the governor of Pennsylvania, and the mayor of Philadelphia—all Democrats—that he would be unchallenged in the Democratic primary. Of course, that’s not what happened, and it ended a long and historic career.”

Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College, agreed with Snyder’s characterization of primary voters.

“Those voters that engage in party primaries are often the most passionate members of the party, with their party identity often an important aspect of their overall identity,” said Borick. “Thus, a candidate who is a relative newcomer to the party may have a higher bar to get over to win the support of longtime party members.”

“The candidates who do switch parties often have to build a strong case for why they switched parties, especially if it was a relatively recent change, and why they should be trusted. These ‘switchers’ sometimes compensate for their newcomer status by being more intense in their campaign rhetoric to signal their credibility with the primary audience,” Borick added.

Temple University political science Professor Robin Kolodny also mentioned Specter when asked about candidates who change parties.

“The answer is: it depends,” said Kolodny. Who else is running in the primary? What are the dynamics in the region or country about the parties? In Pennsylvania, party switching worked poorly for Sen. Arlen Specter when he switched from Republican to Democrat. In New Jersey, Rep. Jeff Van Drew was just fine when he switched from Democrat to Republican.”

Christopher Nicholas with the Eagle Consulting Group said, “I’d say it depends on their personal story. Both Reagan and Trump changed parties during their careers.”

Sunday told DVJournal he was raised a “blue dog” (AKA “conservative”) Democrat who began to disagree with the Democrats as he worked as a prosecutor.

“When I became a prosecutor—I mean, this was a long time coming for me—I realized that conservative principles were what I believed and would make our community safer and healthier. And just like a lot of people, I evolved in my thinking.”

Quantum Communications CEO Charlie Gerow, a Republican consultant, said switching parties may or may not hurt a candidate.

“It really depends on how long ago they switched parties and what they’ve done since. A very recent switch will hurt a candidate far more than one that happened long ago. More than one switch is a much bigger problem for the switcher,” said Gerow.

But Gerow noted it never hurt Philadelphian Joe Rocks.

Rocks was elected as a Republican to the Pennsylvania House in 1979. He switched parties in 1982 and was elected to the Pennsylvania State Senate. He then switched back to Republican and served in the Senate from 1988 to 1990. As a result, he served in all four caucuses in the state legislature.

“Not many can do what Joe Rocks did,” said Gerow.


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DelVal Rep. Craig Williams to Jump Into AG Race

State Rep. Craig Williams says Pennsylvania needs a Marine for attorney general. And he isn’t letting other GOP candidates keep him out of the race.

Williams, who has been widely viewed as a potential candidate for months, is expected to formally launch his campaign on Tuesday.

He is entering a crowded race with two Republicans already in the GOP primary — York County District Attorney Dave Sunday and former Delaware County District Attorney Kat Copeland — and at least five Democrats running as well. Sunday entered the race back in July and has been endorsed by the national Republican Attorneys General Association.

Asked why he was running when Sunday appears to have significant GOP establishment backing, Williams said it was because he could win the general election.

“Looking at the field that’s emerging for attorney general, I do not see or hear a narrative that’s going to win,” said Williams, 59. “And I’m absolutely determined to win this attorney general seat.

“I have the most breadth of experience,” said Williams, who represents parts of Chester and Delaware Counties. “I have run two times in 2020 and 2022 in the state House elections that nobody thought I could win because of the political climate, be it Trump or abortion. I worked my tail off, and I brought a narrative that was winning, which is one of public service, being a community-minded guy, and being a tenacious fighter. And those narratives brought me home to two victories.

“And I’m the only one who can win this race,” Williams added.

He is a former federal prosecutor who served in Colorado and Philadelphia. Williams also served in the Marine Corps for nearly three decades, flew 56 combat missions, was decorated for valor in battle, and retired as a colonel.

While in the Marines, he was a prosecutor and also worked on the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Williams served as deputy legal counsel to the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the war on terror.

Williams has traveled to 30 Pennsylvania’s 67 counties so far to talk to people in a “soft launch” of his campaign.

“And I will tell you that my narrative of having been a nearly 30-year Marine Corps colonel, a combat veteran of Desert Storm, where I flew in the F-18, a federal prosecutor with the Department of Justice in Colorado and Philadelphia, and deputy legal counsel to the Joint Chiefs, there is nobody in this race with the experience and that wide (variety) of matters,” he said. “And when you couple that experience with the fact that we are living in unbelievably violent times, people want a combat Marine. People want somebody who is going to go out there and fight for them. And I’m hearing that in county after county. We need somebody that’s going to fight, and we need somebody that’s going to win.”

“Time and again, what I’m hearing is you’re the guy that can win,” said Williams.

As for Sunday’s early support, Williams said Sunday announced early because he does not have that much experience and needed to line up support to “deaden that blow” and put forth a storyline that “this decision is already made, and everyone else should just go away.”

“These same people that are throwing their support behind Dave Sunday have been losing campaigns for the last several years,” said Williams. “My campaign will be grassroots.

DVJournal asked Williams what he would do about violence since that is usually the purview of district attorneys, not the state attorney general.

“One thing I will do is go to the General Assembly and get authority for concurrent jurisdiction in these large cities where we’re seeing an escalation of gun violence,” said Williams. “I am the architect of the Gun Violence Task Force in Philadelphia, which gave the attorney General concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute gun crime in Philadelphia. (former attorney general, now governor) Josh Shapiro chose not to use it…I will be mobilizing a task force into Philadelphia.”

“Philadelphia needs a combat Marine right now,” Williams added.

Another Delaware Valley candidate for attorney general is Delaware County Democrat District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer. Williams is a strong Stollsteimer critic.

Asked about Stollsteimer touting his reduction of the population in the county prison inmate population by 30 percent and “decriminalizing” small amounts of marijuana, Williams scoffed.

“He cannot ‘decriminalize’ anything,” said Williams. “What he can do is decline to prosecute just like (Philadelphia DA) Larry Krasner. The contrast between me and Jack Stollsteimer could not be any bigger. Jack Stollsteimer is about emptying out the prisons and putting criminals back on the street. I’m making sure we take the fight to violent criminals by way of my prosecution background and my combat experience. And Jack Stollsteimer is going to selectively choose which crimes he does and doesn’t prosecute. That’s a nullification of our legal process in exactly the same way that Larry Krasner has done to Philadelphia. And it’s no way to run the Attorney General’s Office.”

Williams was the manager in Krasner’s House impeachment. That case is now pending before the sate Supreme Court, which is set to hear arguments Nov. 28.

“I come to this fight with the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions in one arm and my Marine Corps sword in the other,” said Williams. “And I’m going to fight to keep people safe.”

In addition to Stollsteimer, the list of Democratic c candidates includes Kier Bradford-Grey, a former public defender; former Auditor General Eugene DePasquale; former Bucks County solicitor Joe Khan; and state Rep. Jared Solomon (D-Philadelphia).

Williams and his wife, lawyer Jennifer Arbittier Williams, have four children and live in the Garnet Valley School District.