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At Pa. Society, party fights are brewing

Think of the Pennsylvania Society, the swank political soiree in New York starting Friday, as an obligatory holiday trip to visit bickering in-laws.

Think of the Pennsylvania Society, the swank political soiree in New York starting Friday, as an obligatory holiday trip to visit bickering in-laws.

The squabbling families are the state Republican and Democratic Parties.

There will be forced laughter at unfunny jokes, blown tempers about dumb disputes, and, every few years, maybe a drunken donnybrook.

It's tradition, you see.

And traditions in Pennsylvania politics are becoming endangered.

The posh party has been held every year since 1899 at the Waldorf-Astoria, but will have to relocate in 2017 due to scheduled renovations.

Donald Trump, the keynote speaker at the Republican Party's kickoff lunch for the 2015 Pennsylvania Society, last month broke a 28-year GOP drought by winning the Keystone State on his way to taking the presidency.

Gov. Wolf, a Democrat, broke a tradition of eight-year cycles for governors (two terms for a Republican, then two terms for a Democrat) that had held since 1954 by defeating Republican Tom Corbett's 2014 bid for a second term.

Will the next tradition, the "midterm" edge, be next to fall? Such elections favor the party out of power in the White House.

Will that hold in 2018, when Wolf bids for a second term and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., another Democrat, seeks a third term?

There are more pressing political battles ahead, sure to be the subject of wrangling this weekend.

One clash is the campaign to succeed state Republican Party Chairman Rob Gleason, who's stepping down after 10 years.

Gleason is expected to back Lawrence Tabas, the state GOP's general counsel since 2006 and a former candidate for city controller and City Council in Philadelphia.

Tabas said he has been busy with postelection presidential recount legal issues. But he is serious about seeking the post.

He faces off against Chester County Republican Chairman Val DiGiorgio, who is already running a very public campaign.

DiGiorgio, in a Nov. 18 letter to Republican State Committee members, said he heard "frustration" about party leaders being disconnected. He also cited a string of party losses for the row offices, including attorney general, treasurer, and auditor general.

One knock on DiGiorgio will be that Hillary Clinton beat Trump in Chester County by more than 9 percentage points, despite a Republican voter registration edge held there.

"Chester County has the highest percentage of highly educated, affluent voters across the state," DiGiorgio told me. "Trump wasn't getting those voters across the nation."

Tabas invoked Ronald Reagan's "11th Commandment" - an edict against speaking ill of fellow Republicans - when asked about DiGiorgio. But that rule only goes so far.

"It's unfortunate for anybody to try to tear down the Republican state party and all of its strengths," Tabas said. "We just came off one of the most historic victories that we've ever had in this state."

The Republicans are not the only party having a family fight this year.

Jim Burn, the former state Democratic Party chairman who clashed with Wolf and then resigned last year, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette he was mulling a 2018 primary challenge to Wolf.

"There's a lot of anger in the party out there with the failure of leadership to hold this state," Burn said in that Nov. 23 article.

Burn confirmed all that for me last week and was tickled that the Post-Gazette had dubbed him a "maverick Democrat."

"It definitely fits where I am politically," he said.

Wolf won't be at Pennsylvania Society this year. His campaign spokesman declined to comment.

Marcel Groen, the Wolf ally who replaced Burn, said he had no idea why Burn is "sniping way."

"I think he's an angry person," he said. "That's not a good reason to run."

Groen said he was probably skipping the Pennsylvania Society this year.

"To be honest with you, I don't think we have anything to celebrate," Groen said with a sigh.