IS DAWN STENSLAND going rogue?
Sources close to the former Fox 29 anchor say that she is seriously considering entering Delaware County's 7th Congressional District race at the urging of conservatives seeking an alternative to Republican candidate Pat Meehan, the former U.S. attorney in Philadelphia.
That would pit Stensland - who doesn't live in the district - against the man who green-lighted the investigation of her husband, former CBS 3 anchor Larry Mendte, ending Mendte's career and publicizing a romantic relationship with his then-co-anchor, Alycia Lane.
All that's wrapped in a 2010 congressional race that was already expected to be among the most competitive in the nation.
Delaware County Republican leaders, who are firmly behind Meehan, greeted the rumors of a Stensland candidacy, which appeared yesterday on conservative Web site PAWaterCooler.com, with disbelief, conspiracy theories and a dash of genuine concern:
Is this a stunt hatched by Mendte - who pleaded guilty to hacking into Lane's e-mail account and who served six months' house arrest - to get revenge on Meehan?
Who is backing her? What does she stand for?
Is she really going to do this?
Stensland, 45, who lost her TV job in October, has previously said that she and Mendte have considered moving from Chestnut Hill, situated in U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah's district, to Delaware County.
And she has already received "serious" calls about financial backing for a 7th District campaign, but is still considering other broadcast opportunities, sources said.
"I just learned of it this morning," Andrew Reilly, chairman of the Delaware County GOP, said of Stensland's possible candidacy. "Any Republican that wants to try help wrestle the 7th District seat back is welcome."
Reilly said that he was backing Meehan but would set up an open endorsement process if there were multiple candidates seeking the GOP nomination.
But sources said that Stensland hasn't yet decided, if she does run, whether she'd challenge Meehan in the primary or run as a third-party candidate in the general election. She is registered as nonpartisan, according to city records.
Reached by phone yesterday, Stensland declined to comment.
"As far as I know, 98 percent of our people are solidly behind Pat," said Upper Darby GOP leader John McNichol.
Meehan, the county's former district attorney, has already raised more than $200,000 in his bid to replace Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, who is vacating the seat to challenge U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter in the Democratic primary.
Republican leaders helped convince Meehan to give up his gubernatorial aspirations to run for Sestak's seat, believing that he is their best chance at reclaiming a district that Republican U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon had held for 20 years until his defeat in 2006 amid a federal influence-peddling probe.
But the possibility of a Stensland candidacy appears to be an indication that some conservatives are unhappy with Meehan.
Yesterday, some GOP leaders aligned with Meehan expressed concern that Stensland would run as a third-party conservative candidate in November.
That could produce a situation similar to last month's election in upstate New York's 23rd Congressional District, where a Conservative Party candidate ran the Republican candidate out of the race, inadvertently helping the Democratic candidate win in the historically Republican district.
Stensland has considerable name recognition due to eight years as a main anchor for Fox 29, but McNichol said that most voters probably know her as "Larry Mendte's wife."
"I don't know how much that helps her," he said.
Sources close to Stensland said that her possible candidacy was unrelated to Meehan's investigation of her husband. Meehan initially approved the federal probe, but he stepped down as U.S. attorney shortly before Mendte was indicted in July 2008.
Staff writer Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.