Pennsylvania tea-party activists, GOP, and Democrats distance themselves from Jim Schneller

Posted: August 05, 2010

For about a day, Jim Schneller of Wayne basked in the glow of having gathered 7,900 signatures to get his name on the ballot as an independent, tea-party-minded candidate for Congress.

But almost as soon as he filed the papers in Harrisburg, Republicans called his signature-gathering efforts a sham orchestrated by Democrats, tea-party activists implored him to quit the race, and Democrats largely pretended not to know him.

Schneller, 54, whose conservative views could draw votes from GOP nominee Patrick Meehan, said he did not know whether Democrats had conspired to get him on the ballot. Democratic activists, including at least one campaign worker for party nominee Bryan Lentz, gathered some 4,800 of the signatures on Schneller's petitions, according to a count by Meehan's campaign.

On one hand, Schneller said he was thankful for the help. On the other, he chafed at the thought that Democrats might be using him to hurt Meehan's chances. The Seventh District race to replace U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak is one of the most closely watched in the nation.

"I'm just disappointed that either party would engage in or give the go-ahead for any type of machinations of that sort," Schneller said. "One way or another, this could backfire on them."

Lentz, an Iraq war veteran and two-term state representative who is typically responsive to media inquiries, has been noticeably quiet about the Schneller petitions. He declined Wednesday to answer The Inquirer's questions about his supporters' apparent role in helping Schneller get on the ballot, instead referring a reporter to his campaign manager.

The campaign manager, Kevin McTigue, said, "Any questions about Jim Schneller should be directed to Jim Schneller."

David Landau, who leads the Democratic Party in Delaware County, the historically Republican-leaning heart of the Seventh Congressional District, said his committee "did not authorize, approve, organize, or assist in the effort to get Mr. Schneller on the ballot."

Among the Democrats who circulated petitions for Schneller was Colleen Guiney, whom Lentz earlier this year saluted as "the hardest worker on my campaign." McTigue confirmed on Wednesday that Guiney, who heads the Swarthmore Democrats, "absolutely does" still work with Lentz's campaign.

Guiney - who, according the Meehan campaign's count, gathered 503 signatures for Schneller - did not return calls for comment on Wednesday.

In all, Schneller turned in nearly double the 4,200 signatures required to put his name on the ballot. The Meehan campaign has not yet said whether it will challenge the validity of Schneller's signatures in court, but several election law experts said they expected such challenges.

Schneller is running as an independent, though some of his views line up with tea-party activists. He opposes abortion and believes the U.S. Constitution should be strictly applied. In 2008 he filed papers with the state Supreme Court challenging President Obama's citizenship.

Local tea-party organizations have disowned Schneller. The Independence Hall Tea Party Association, the largest such group in the region, endorsed Meehan in the spring and asked Schneller last year to quit the race, said Teri Adams, a board member of the group's political action committee.

"I spoke with him at length about it," Adams said. "We asked him not to run because Pat Meehan has a very excellent chance of winning."

The Independence Hall group and the Delaware County Patriots sent Schneller a letter Wednesday asking him again to drop out of the race, or at least to withdraw the signatures that Lentz volunteers and supporters had gathered.

"They are simply trying to steal the election, and do not support your beliefs or candidacy in any positive way," wrote Don Adams of the Independence Hall Tea Party Association.


Contact staff writer Joelle Farrell at 610-627-0352 or jfarrell@phillynews.com.

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