Primary shocker in the 152nd

By Tom Waring
Times Staff Writer

Last year’s legislative pay raise appears to have claimed its first local victim.
State Rep. Sue Cornell (R-152nd dist.) lost in the Republican primary to Tom Murt, whose campaign appeals included references to the pay hike.
Cornell voted for the increase and originally took the money in unvouchered expenses. She eventually voted to repeal the raise and returned the money.
But on May 16, she was one of 17 state legislators to lose in the primary. Murt defeated her, 55 percent to 45 percent.
"The pay raise vote probably had something to do with it," Cornell said. "That’s the way it is."
Cornell, elected in 2004 to replace her deceased dad Roy, will remain in office until the end of the year. She invited her supporters to her Hatboro home after the polls closed, hoping for a victory party. The mood, though, resembled a funeral, with the incumbent trying to cheer up her fans.
A few blocks away, the party was alive at Murt’s house. He had successfully challenged a better-financed, party-endorsed incumbent.
Murt said he relied on family members, friends and contacts through his involvement with youth sports groups and the local CYO. Many of those folks had never been involved in a political campaign.
"I had a great deal of dedicated and loyal supporters," he said.
Among those at Murt’s home was Mike Paston, who captured the Democratic nomination with 65 percent of the vote over Realtor John Weinrich.
Paston and Weinrich both switched parties in hopes of getting a crack at Cornell. The pay raise issue would have been a big issue in the general election.
Now, Murt and Paston will be talking about other issues.
"Today’s developments are good for the citizens of the district," said Paston, who celebrated with supporters at his campaign headquarters before going to congratulate Murt. "I think we’ll have an issues-oriented campaign."
The district includes portions of Somerton and eastern Montgomery County.
Cornell won the city portion of the district by a 2-to-1 margin, but Murt swamped her by more than 800 votes in his home area of Upper Moreland, where he’s a familiar name as founder of the local historical association, YMCA sports coach and an active member in his church. He also won in Cornell’s hometown of Hatboro.
"People were voting change," he said.
Paston captured 90 percent of the vote in Philadelphia and 96 percent in his home area of Upper Dublin.
The winner credited his volunteers. He believes primary voters were wary of Weinrich’s suggestion that he would stay a Democrat for only one term.
"Democrats are ready to win this seat," he said.
Paston, who runs a family printing business and serves on the Upper Dublin School Board, plans to stress education and property tax reform in the campaign. He’s excited to be on a ticket with Gov. Ed Rendell and Bob Casey Jr., who is running for U.S. Senate.
The Democrat will try to tap into voter unrest. Since Republicans outnumber Democrats in the district, he’ll need crossover votes from those angry with President George W. Bush. He’s optimistic that GOP voters will listen to his message.
"They’ll pick the person over the party," he predicted.
Murt works at Penn State Abington as assistant coordinator of the advising center and an instructor in the business department. He’s a former school board member and commissioner in Upper Moreland who served in Iraq as a member of the United States Army Reserve.
The Republican promises to run a clean campaign focused on open space preservation and his experience. He’s looking forward to debates.
Murt thanked Cornell for her service and contributions to the community but said he represented change. He wants a united GOP heading into November.
"It’s time for the Republican Party to heal, rally and come together," he said.
Cornell appears to be on board.
"I wish him the best of luck. I hope he’s victorious in the fall," she said.
State Rep. John Taylor knocked on doors for Cornell in the final few hours of Election Day. He brought some of his committee people from the 25th Ward to help out. Reps. Tom Quigley and Karen Beyer, of the Pottstown and Allentown areas, respectively, also pitched in.
Taylor, who was close to Roy Cornell, said he had hoped Sue Cornell had a long tenure in the House of Representatives. He blamed the loss on her not having enough years to establish herself in office and not having the time to campaign because of duties in Harrisburg.
Cornell couldn’t speculate on whether she should have voted against the pay raise.
"Hindsight is twenty-twenty," she said.
Cornell, a single mother of a teenage son, isn’t sure of her next job, hoping only that it’s less stressful than being a legislator.
For the next seven months, she plans to complete the job she has.
"I’ve always tried to do the best I could for the 152nd, and I’ll do that till I’m finished," she said. ••
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twaring@phillynews.com