Philadelphia -- THE SMILING face on the television screen is familiar to Pennsylvanians: Dick Thornburgh, their two-term Republican governor from 1979 to 1987. "Back when I was governor, we did a lot of great things together," he says in one paid commercial in his bed to do, fight for Pennsylvania -- again."
Thornburgh is also featured in television ads run by Wofford, appointed to the Senate by Democratic Gov. Robert Casey after Republican Sen. John Heinz died in a plane crash last April. The Thornburgh in the Wofford ads, however, is not the fighting former governor, but rather the much-criticized former attorney general in the Reagan and Bush administrations.
While the screen shows a photo of Thornburgh superimposed on the U.S. Capitol and then a series of critical headlines, a narrator intones: "After helping to create the mess in Washington, does Dick Thornburgh deserve to go back? As attorney general, Dick Thornburgh was supposed to go after the S&L crooks, but he recovered less than a penny for every dollar stolen, let Neil Bush off the hook and left you holding the bag. He tried to go easy on a company involved in the Alaska oil spill, while owning $30,000 of their stock. In the BCCI scandal, prosecutors said Thornburgh's department stonewalled, withheld evidence and deceived bank examiners. Before you vote, take a second look at Dick Thornburgh."
Those two television commercials, and others swapping allegations about the two candidates' roles in the BCCI bank scandal, tell a lot about Pennsylvania's Nov. 5 special
Senate election. Voters' positive memories of Thornburgh's years as governor are being pitted against what until recently at leaset has been a blurred public awareness in the state of his performance as attorney general.
There are other issues as well, notably national health insurance. Wofford, a former Casey cabinet member who in 1961 helped President John F. Kennedy found the Peace Corps, says national health care can be provided with actual savings to taxpayers, a ** premise that Thornburgh ridicules as believing in "the health-care fairy." Michele Davis, Thornburgh's campaign manager, says Wofford is being used as "a guinea pig for the national Democrats to test health care" as a winning issue in the 1992 presidential campaign.
But Wofford is also focusing on separating the two Dick Thornburghs. In a televised debate last week, he strove to remind voters of Thornburgh's four years running the Justice Department rather than his eight years running the state. In response to a question about legislation to extend unemployment benefits, vetoed by President Bush and narrowly sustained by Congress, Wofford chided Thornburgh for not pushing the president under whom he served to sign the bill.
Thornburgh said he had urged Bush to do so while he was attorney general but would vote to override his veto if he were in the Senate today. Asked how he would explain that vote to Bush, Thornburgh replied: "I'd say, 'People are hurting in Pennsylvania. And I represent Pennsylvania. Mr. President, when served in your cabinet, I owed you and gave you undivided loyalty. But when I came back to represent the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, I had to put this state's interests
first . . .' "
Wofford asked why Thornburgh hadn't spoken out more forcefully "when he could have done some good, not just for Pennsylvania, but for the whole country? But why did he wait until it could do him some good, as a candidate, to say, 'I stand up to the president?' " Thornburgh shot back: "Because I served in his cabinet, the same as you served in Robert Casey's cabinet and sat silently by while he imposed the largest tax increase in the history of this commonwealth."
Wofford's identity with an embattled Casey may hurt him more than Thornburgh is damaged by his link to the popular Bush. Still, Wofford's best hope may be in reminding voters that Thornburgh is not seeking another term as governor, but rather is after a term as a senator who figures to be more satisfied with, and supportive of, Bush's cautious approach on national health insurance and other domestic issues than Wofford has been, and would be if he stays in the Senate.