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Pennsylvania gubernatorial election, 1978

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Title: Pennsylvania gubernatorial election, 1978  
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Subject: United States gubernatorial elections, 1978, List of Pennsylvania gubernatorial elections, Elections in Pennsylvania, United States Senate election in Pennsylvania, 1980, Pittsburgh/On this day/May 17
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Pennsylvania gubernatorial election, 1978

Pennsylvania gubernatorial election, 1978

November 7, 1978 (1978-11-07)

Candidate Dick Thornburgh Pete Flaherty
Party Republican Democratic
Running mate Bill Scranton III Bob Casey
Popular vote 1,966,042 1,737,888
Percentage 52.4% 46.4%

County results

Governor before election

Milton Shapp

Elected Governor

Dick Thornburgh

The Pennsylvania gubernatorial election of 1978 was held on November 7, 1978 between Republican Dick Thornburgh and Democrat Pete Flaherty.

Primary Elections



  • Bob Casey, Auditor General (from Lackawanna County)
  • Pete Flaherty, US Deputy Attorney General and former Mayor of Pittsburgh (from Allegheny County)
  • Ernie Kline, Lt. Governor (from Westmoreland County)
  • Jennifer Wesner, Mayor of Knox (from Clarion County)


  • Bob Butera, former State House Minority Leader (from Montgomery County)
  • Henry Hager, State Senate Minority Leader (from Lycoming County)
  • Alvin Jacobson, disabled former soldier (from Adams County)
  • Dave Marston, former US Attorney (from Montgomery County)
  • Arlen Specter, former Philadelphia District Attorney
  • Dick Thornburgh, former US Attorney (from Allegheny County)
  • Andrew Watson


The race began with a primary that slated an impressive field of candidates. Flaherty, the former Mayor of Pittsburgh who was known for providing a progressive challenge to urban machine politics, bested State Auditor General Bob Casey, who had lost the Democratic nomination for this office twice before. Casey's campaign was greatly hurt by the presence of another Bob Casey who was running on the ballot for Lieutenant Governor; voters apparently believed they were selecting a ticket of Flaherty and the Auditor General when they chose the Pittsburgh teacher as the Democratic running mate. Lieutenant Governor Ernie Kline, who was frequently known as "assistant governor" during his time in office due to his policy skills, was endorsed by outgoing governor Milton Shapp, but finished a distant third.

Thornburgh's win came over the Republican leaders of both houses of the state legislature (House Minority Leader Bob Butera and Senate Minority Leader Henry Hager), as well as a former US Attorney, Dave Marston. Former Philadelphia District Attorney and future senator Arlen Specter was considered the front-runner in the months preceding the primary, but the moderate urban Republican's campaign faded as Thornburgh presented himself as a leader than could bridge both wings of the party.[1]


Pennsylvania gubernatorial Democratic primary election, 1978[2]
Party Candidate Votes %
Democratic Pete Flaherty 574,899 44.89%
Democratic Bob Casey 445,146 34.76%
Democratic Ernie Kline 223,811 17.48%
Democratic Jennifer Wesner 36,770 2.87%
Pennsylvania gubernatorial Republican primary election, 1978[3]
Party Candidate Votes %
Republican Dick Thornburgh 325,376 32.63%
Republican Arlen Specter 206,802 20.74%
Republican Bob Butera 190,653 19.12%
Republican Dave Marston 161,813 16.23%
Republican Henry Hager 57,119 5.73%
Republican Andrew Watson 48,460 4.86%
Republican Alvin Jacobson 7,101 .71%

Major Party Candidates




Flaherty out-polled Thornburgh by double-digit margins for much of the campaign, but the Republican candidate used highly effective strategies to close the gap in the weeks leading up to election night. Thornburgh was successful in recruiting suburban moderates, as fellow moderate Republican Specter encouraged his metro Philadelphia supporters to rally behind Thornburgh. In contrast, the liberal Flaherty had trouble reaching out to conservative Democrats outside of his Western Pennsylvania base, a problem hindered by Casey's tepid support for the candidate over the lieutenant gubernatorial issue. Thornburgh also aggressively courted traditionally Democratic-leaning groups and gained the endorsements of the NAACP and several labor unions. Democratic support slowly waned under this strategy, which allowed Thornburgh to take a close victory.[1]


Pennsylvania gubernatorial election, 1978[4][5]
Party Candidate Running mate Votes Percentage
Republican Dick Thornburgh Bill Scranton III 1,996,042 52.54%
Democratic Pete Flaherty Bob Casey 1,737,888 46.44%
Socialist Workers Mark Zola Naomi Berman 20,062 0.54%
Consumer Lee Frissell Betty Burkett 17,593 0.47%
Write-ins Write-in 384 0.01%
Totals 3,741,969 100.00%
Voter turnout (Voting age population) 64.60%


  1. ^ a b Kennedy, John J. (2006). Pennsylvania Elections: Statewide Contests From 1950-2004. University Press of America.  
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^ The Pennsylvania Manual, p. 728.
  5. ^ The Pennsylvania Manual, p. 727.


  • Ackley, Gayle; Arcuri, Patricia D, eds. (1979).  
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