Impassioned supporters mount write-in effort for Sam Rohrer

Dan and Sue Nelms have a Rohrer sign outside their home. They are among leaders of a write-in effort for their candidate.
Dan and Sue Nelms have a Rohrer sign outside their home. They are among leaders of a write-in effort for their candidate.
Posted: August 02, 2010

Dan Nelms and his wife, Sue, were never active in politics.

"We weren't even regular voters until a few years ago," he confided.

Then in April, they heard Republican gubernatorial candidate Sam Rohrer speak at a town-hall meeting. They went away so impressed by Rohrer's quiet, plain-talk brand of libertarian conservatism that they ended up going door to door for him in their suburban Lancaster neighborhood.

When Rohrer lost to Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett by more than a 2-1 ratio in the May 18 Republican primary, the Nelmses were bitterly disappointed - but not enough to go back into political hiding.

They are now among leaders of a very small but impassioned effort by some Rohrer fans to mount a write-in effort for their man in the Nov. 3 general election for governor.

The odds against such a campaign succeeding are monumental. Gov. Rendell got almost 2.5 million votes in his last election in 2006. Even the loser, Republican Lynn Swann, got 1.6 million votes.

Rohrer himself has not said if he would encourage a write-in effort. He said he wanted to see if it got "any real legs" before making any comment.

The Nelmses aren't daunted. They intend to build one write-in vote at a time.

"Sam is so unique," said Sue Nelms, who, like her husband, has a background in computers. "I am only 40, but I don't know if I will see anything like him ever again. He is made of the same stuff as the founding fathers."

Last Monday night, the Nelmses held an organizational meeting for Lancaster County Rohrer supporters at a Bob Evans restaurant at the Rockville Square outlet mall. Just a handful of people showed up. But the gathering was "on short notice," Sue Nelms said.

One legacy of Rohrer's candidacy was that it drew in people, such as the Nelmses, who had no experience with election activism.

Naively, in retrospect, many believed that Rohrer would win - even though the nine-term state House member from Berks County was always the longest of long shots, with little campaign money and no help from party leaders, who almost unanimously had endorsed Corbett.

Many Rohrer loyalists felt adrift when he lost.

Sue Mercer, of Terre Hill, Lancaster County, said she stewed for a while in her disillusionment - then decided to aid a write-in effort.

"Voting for Tom Corbett will be like having a Dem in the gov. seat!" she wrote recently on a Facebook page called "We will write in Sam Rohrer in November."

"Please think and pray hard about Nov.! " she urged in her posting. "We, the PEOPLE of PA, need to take a STAND like Sam Rohrer did! Vote PRINCIPLE over party."

Mercer, the mother of five children, ages 7 to 17, said in an interview that she is deaf to arguments from some fellow conservatives that a write-in vote for Rohrer would only help the Democratic nominee: Dan Onorato, the Allegheny County executive.

Rohrer's primary voters, in many cases, were in sync with the national tea party movement. They felt more loyal to conservative ideas - especially the notion that Americans are increasingly being denied their rights by big government and activist courts - than to any party.

"To me," Mercer said, "politics is pretty much corrupt all the way around. I would like to see the country get back to the conservative values it was founded on. And Sam wants to stand on those issues. He wants to restore our rights to us."

Rohrer, she noted, has advocated the elimination of school property taxes - not just because some homeowners can't afford them, but because they infringe on the rights of property ownership.

Write-in campaign supporter Ernie Rosato, of Harleysville, Montgomery County, said the movement is only a couple of weeks old. So far, he said, it can count only 35 to 40 activists in a half-dozen counties.

He, for one, doesn't expect Rohrer to win. He's hoping for 50,000 write-in votes.

"That would be phenomenal," he said. It would send a message to the GOP leaders who had shut off party support for Rohrer that they can't rule like old-time political bosses.

Rosato, 49, who works as an inspector at construction sites, has started a website,, that he hopes will become a virtual campaign headquarters for the write-in effort.

At least two Facebook pages have been started by others, along with another website,

"What we expect to do is educate the public that they have a choice when it comes to voting in Pennsylvania," Rosato said.

Some Rohrer fans had hoped that after losing in the primary, he would turn around and run as an independent this fall. But Pennsylvania has a "sore loser" law that prevents primary losers from gaining ballot access in the general election.

That makes a write-in campaign the only option.

Rohrer, who will step down as a state representative when his term expires in January, has vowed not to disappear from politics.

He gained nearly one-third of the primary vote, which surprised many in politics, considering that he got a late start in the race and was barely known by voters statewide.

His strength was concentrated in south-central Pennsylvania, where he is from. He held dozens of town-hall meetings that routinely attracted the largest crowds of any primary candidate for governor, Republican or Democrat.

"I think what you're seeing right now is that people don't want to just roll over and go back to the same thing they did before," Rohrer said. "They don't want to lower their standard and vote for someone they cannot agree with."

Rohrer said he was watching closely what some of his former supporters are now doing, but he said he wasn't yet prepared to say if he'll join in.

But he noted: "I am not going to quell someone who is stepping forward on a point of principle."

Contact staff writer Tom Infield at 610-313-8205 or

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