The Draft Smithgall effort appears to have succeeded.
Former Lancaster Mayor Charlie Smithgall got enough write-in votes in Tuesday's Republican primary to run as the GOP nominee against Democratic incumbent Rick Gray, an initial vote count by elections workers showed.
"Republicans got 227 write-in votes in the city, and out of that Smithgall will have enough to be nominated for the November election," Mary Stehman, the county's top elections official, said this morning.
County officials begin verifying the results Friday morning.
The question is: Will Smithgall run?
"Probably," said Smithgall, a 63-year-old pharmacist who served two terms as city mayor from 1998 to 2006.
"I just want to see if the votes are there," he added. "This wasn't expected. I figured they'd never get enough votes. This was a grassroots effort by people other than myself."
It takes 100 write-in votes in a third-class city such as Lancaster to get your name on the ballot, said Leslie Amoros, a Department of State spokeswoman. County elections officials initially said it would take 250 write-in votes.
If Smithgall accepts the nomination, it would force Gray and the Democrats to spend campaign money on defending the mayor's seat in City Hall. Gray had no opponent in the Democratic primary and appeared to have been on a clear path to re-election.
"It's surprising to me that he would run at this point, in view of the fact that when it was available to him, he decided not to," said Gray. "Perhaps that says something about his actually wanting the job."
Republicans sought but could not find a candidate willing to run against Gray, whose administration has run smoothly and without scandal. And it's pretty clear why they couldn't recruit anyone.
It's an uphill climb for Republicans in the city.
In 2005, Smithgall lost his bid for a third term against Gray, who won by 16 points. About two-thirds of the GOP committee slots are vacant in the city. President Barack Obama, a Democrat, won 76 percent of the vote in the city last year. And the GOP can't even find a token opponent for Democratic state Rep. Mike Sturla.
Smithgall supporters, many of whom operated in the northwest part of the city, launched what appeared to be an informal effort earlier this spring by handing out half-sheet letters asking voters to write in his name.
Smithgall said he knows who some of those supporters are, but he wouldn't identify them.
Stehman said many of the write-in votes Smithgall received on Tuesday were different variations of his name - Charlie and Charles Smithgall, for example.
If Smithgall wants to be on the fall ballot, "He will have to petition the courts for identity, and that means combining all of the signatures under one name," Stehman said.
He'd also have to pay a filing fee.
If Smithgall doesn't want to take on the challenge?
"He doesn't have to do anything," said Stehman.
Regardless of what Smithgall decides, Gray said the impact on his campaign will be minimal.
"It doesn't change our plans at all," said Gray, who is in his first term. "It was our intent to run from the beginning and to run a full campaign. We have it planned out through the fall."
Staff writer Tom Murse can be reached at tmurse@LNPnews.com or 481-6021.