updated 2/11/2006 10:37:41 PM ET 2006-02-12T03:37:41

Pennsylvania’s Republican Party leaders endorsed former Pittsburgh Steelers star Lynn Swann for governor Saturday, virtually guaranteeing that he will be the candidate to face Democratic incumbent Ed Rendell this fall.

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“I haven’t cried this much since I was inducted into the Hall of Fame,” Swann told the applauding crowd as he wiped tears from his eyes.

Swann, 53, was unopposed for the endorsement, which came in a unanimous voice vote during a meeting of the 300-plus-member Republican State Committee at a downtown hotel.

Swann is seeking to become Pennsylvania’s first black governor. Though he has revealed little about his political philosophy, he has said the Democratic Party has “taken the African-American vote for granted.”

He didn’t shed any new light on his platform Saturday, but castigated Rendell as too willing to raise taxes to finance his initiatives.

Rendell’s spokeswoman Patricia Enright dismissed Swann’s comments as “vague platitudes and baseless attacks.” With Rendell as governor, she said, “Government is leaner and we have an all-time record number of jobs in the commonwealth.”

The Republican State Committee also endorsed Jim Matthews, the brother of the host of MSNBC’s “Hardball With Chris Matthews,” for lieutenant governor. He’s now the commissioner of Montgomery County near Philadelphia.

Jim Matthews, 56, joked Saturday about going from being known as “Chris Matthews’ brother” to “Lynn Swann’s running mate.”

Swann now faces at least token opposition in the May 16 primary from retired business advocate Jim Panyard, who did not compete for the party endorsement.

A novice in politics, Swann remains a sports celebrity and his name is as inextricably linked to Pittsburgh — the state’s second-largest city — as Rendell is tied to Philadelphia, where he once was mayor. Rendell is seeking a second term.

At the end of 2005, Rendell had more than $12 million in his war chest. Swann’s campaign ended the year with about $1 million.

Swann was a wide receiver for the Steelers from 1974-83 and led his team to four Super Bowl victories. After retiring from football, he worked as an ABC Sports commentator. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.

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