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Pa.’s pols again flock to NYC for annual weekend bash

For many of the established or aspiring state's political class, the annual trek to New York – ironically called Pennsylvania Society – is all about seeing and being seen.

U.S. Sen.Bob Casey, D-PA, in interviewed by reporters following his second debate with Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, Friday Oct. 26, 2018, in the studio of KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh.
U.S. Sen.Bob Casey, D-PA, in interviewed by reporters following his second debate with Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta, Friday Oct. 26, 2018, in the studio of KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh.Read moreAP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

With midterm elections over, and a crop of fresh new faces on Pennsylvania's political scene, this year's annual weekend of schmoozing and networking in New York City —  ironically called the Pennsylvania Society — will be all about jostling for the spotlight.

The mad dash to Manhattan this week is ostensibly to attend some government-like forums, but it's mostly to fund-raise, party and — for the ambitious — draw attention. The itinerary features an exhaustive list of dinners, receptions, and cocktail parties (most invitation-only) hosted by law firms, lobbyists, and others with a financial stake in Keystone State government and politics.

The burning topic of conversation tends to be less about policy and more about who is showing up where — and why.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, who has fanned chatter that he may run for president in 2020, will be making a return appearance. So will Republican state House Speaker Mike Turzai, who many believe will try to position himself early on as the favored GOP candidate for a gubernatorial nomination; and Jeff Bartos, who, though unsuccessful in his Republican run for lieutenant governor last month, has already sparked speculation about his next political move.

Gov. Wolf, a Democrat who just won reelection, decided to sit it out this year. Wolf has never been a big fan of the annual trek north, which even those who enthusiastically attend acknowledge is largely for the political elite and people who want something from them.

State Sen.-elect Katie Muth, who last month pulled off an upset win to oust longtime State Sen. John Rafferty of Montgomery County, falls into that camp and won't be attending.

"I know it's, like, a big networking event," said Muth, a Democrat who noted that she had a stack of invitations to parties in New York this weekend — many from law firms that supported her opponent. "I am of the people, and I sort of view it as an elitist event."

For the Philly-centric crowd, though, all ears will be piqued for intelligence on who will challenge Mayor Kenney in next year's election, and who will run for City Council. Former City Controller Alan Butkovitz has already announced a mayoral bid, while Democratic State Sen. Anthony H. Williams has signaled he may run.

Beyond that, Democrats are expected to spend time doing a victory lap, celebrating key pickups in Congress, as well as in both chambers of the state legislature, while retaining the governorship.

Republicans are likely to downplay the significance of their losses — most dramatically in the Philadelphia suburbs — while privately regrouping to map out what many expect will be an unabashedly more conservative policy agenda leading up to the 2020 election.

That year — with Pennsylvania again expected to be a battleground in the race for president — has the potential to shape politics and governing in the state for the next decade. That is because all seats in the state House, as well as half those in the state Senate, will be up for grabs. Whoever snags majorities in those chambers controls the brass ring of legislating: the once-in-a-decade redistricting process, during which maps are drawn for congressional and state legislative districts.

As it stands, Republicans control both the state House and Senate. But Democrats last month took a sizable chunk out of those majorities, and are plotting to further erode GOP control in 2020.

Given those stakes, both parties will be looking for political stars to lead the way.

"Now, we wait to see who will emerge as the next series of leaders," said political pollster and analyst G. Terry Madonna of Franklin and Marshall College.

The Pennsylvania Society can be the place where such reputations are made. For decades, the event — capped by a Saturday night ballroom dinner — was held inside the gilded halls and reception rooms of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in midtown Manhattan and was the place to see and be seen.

Last year, because of renovations at the Waldorf, the event was transplanted to the far less glamorous Hilton Midtown. The storied hotel remains closed this year, so this weekend's event will again be at the Hilton.

Casey is holding a reception, as he does most years. But this time around, there is more buzz around him. After his victory in last month's election over GOP challenger Rep. Lou Barletta, Casey was asked by NBC News if he planned to run for president in 2020.

His response: "We'll see what happens."