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Thursday, June 9, 2011

PA voters may not have heard the last of Dan Onorato

Posted By on Thu, Jun 9, 2011 at 9:41 AM

In the wake of last November's gubernatorial election, when Tom Corbett steamrolled Allegheny County executive Dan Onorato by a 9-point margin, a lot of folks were willing to write Onorato's political epitaph. That Onorato would lose Pennsylvania was no surprise ... but he even lost Allegheny County itself -- a circumstance that had Republicans chortling. 

In the wake of the loss, Onorato decided not to seek relection to his county post. But voters in Allegheny County -- and the rest of the state -- may not have heard the last of him.

This past weekend, the state's Democratic Committee held a gathering at Seven Springs. And on both days of the gathering, I've been told, one of the higher-profile attendees was Onorato himself. 

I've spoken to a handful of party insiders who say that while Onorato wasn't formally declaring a campaign, he very much sounded like a guy pondering another statewide run -- this time probably for state auditor general in 2012. Onorato, whose term as county executive ends this year, was making noise about his willingness to take an active role challenging the policies and talking points being crafted in Harrisburg, where Republicans control both houses of the legislature as well as the governor's mansion. 

Auditor general would be an intriguing choice for Onorato. The incumbent, Jack Wagner, is an old rival -- the two ran against each other in last year's gubernatorial primary. But Wagner is finishing up his second term in office, and can't run again; he's considered a likely candidate to run for mayor of Pittsburgh in 2013.

Onorato has previously served as county controller, the local equivalent of the post. And while his gubernatorial run may not have been successful, it certainly has given him an advantage in terms of name-recognition. Especially compared to other Democrats said to be considering a run -- like York County state Rep. Eugene DePasquale and Chester County Treasurer Ann Duke.

Onorato would have to replenish his campaign warchest, which was more than $200,000 in the red as of the end of 2010. But Onorato is proven fundraiser, having pulled in more than $12 million that year.

And what of the fact that Onorato did lose his home county to Corbett? Part of his pitch to Dems at least weekend's retreat, it seems, was that those numbers aren't the stinging rebuke they might first appear to be. His 213,429 votes countywide last year wasn't enough to best Corbett, but it was a better performance than Onorato turned in while facing incumbent Jim Roddey in November 2003. (It's slightly less than he got in the 2007 general, but he was running unopposed in that election.)

Of course, you can't really compare vote totals in an off-year contest with those in a gubernatorial election -- and there was also a high-profile Senate contest in play last year, which no doubt brought some voters to the polls. Even so, it bears remembering that Allegheny is Corbett's homebase as well. Not to mention that Onorato was without question caught up in a Republican "wave year," and on the wrong side of a historical trend in which the governor's mansion switches hands every eight years.

Onorato is a pugnacious candidate. It'd be interesting to see how he fared in a statewide race where the odds weren't so heavily stacked against him. And at least this time around, he probably wouldn't have to instruct Pennsylvanians on how to pronounce his name.

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