Eight weeks after putting Pennsylvania in the win column for Donald J. Trump, state GOP chair Rob Gleason announced Tuesday he would not seek the chairman’s post again this year.
Gleason made the formal announcement on the same day that Republicans took control of both Houses of Congress and expanded their majorities to historic levels in the state legislature.
“We’ve come a long way since I first took over the party in June of 2006,” said Gleason, who is credited with spearheading the efforts that led to the first Republican presidential nominee to win the Keystone State since 1988.
“When I got here things were terrible,” he said of the state of the party.
“We had no money, I got into the office in Harrisburg and thought what the hell is going on here?” he said.
That fall, Pennsylvania Republicans lost the U.S. Senate seat held by then-incumbent Rick Santorum; Lynn Swann fell in his challenge to the governor at the time, Democrat Ed Rendell; and the GOP was crushed down-ballot in the congressional and state legislative seats.
In short, the party was in shambles.
Gleason clawed his way back with some great successes and also some failures, but he has always been a noble competitor across the aisle, said Marcel Groen, chair of the state Democrat Party.
“He is a grassroots guy who found a way to make those skills that work at the top level,” he said.
Kellyanne Conway, in an interview with the Washington Examiner, praised Gleason’s doggedness during the entire campaign this year. “He and David Urban knew where every vote was in every county, and they delivered every one of them,” she said.
Urban, a long-time Pennsylvania political operative who ran Trump’s Pennsylvania operation since early last summer, said Gleason is a true professional and will be sorely missed.
“I’ve known Gleason for twenty-years, he is the consummate professional and always looks for votes when others would have given up,” he said.
Gleason recalls daily calls with Conway, Trump and incoming White House chief of staff Reince Priebus throughout the summer and fall about how Pennsylvania was shaping up.
“They were personally involved in the state and understood that Mr. Trump’s message resonated with Pennsylvania voters and that it was very much winnable,” he said.
In December of 2015, Gleason took a lot of heat from state conservatives and members of the establishment for having Trump serve as the keynote speaker for the state party’s biggest fundraiser of the year. It was held in New York City during the annual Pennsylvania Society events at the Waldorf Hotel.
“I never met him before the night of the fundraiser, but the moment he walked in that door I knew he had something that no one else had. Even back then I knew he would win the primaries and likely Pennsylvania,” he said.
Gleason rose up the ranks to the head of the party from an unlikely perch, chair of the Cambria County Republican Party. The county had a solid three to one Democrat-over-Republican registration and was the county home of the late congressman Jack Murtha, a dominant Democrat force. The county had not delivered a victory for Republicans for decades.
On election night last year, that same county had one of the biggest flips in the state’s history, backing Trump by margins exceeding two-to-one.
Gleason’s retirement likely places the party’s general counsel Lawrence Tabas in a competitive race for the chairmanship with Chester County party chair Val DiGiorgio.
The new chairman will be elected Feb. 4, when the state GOP holds its annual winter meeting in Hershey, the same town where Trump gave Gleason a big shout out during his thank you tour in the state on December 16th.
To read the full piece by Salena Zito, please click here.