Campaigning against the current
The fate of six major party candidates for three statewide row offices largely will be determined by factors outside their control.
The offices of treasurer, auditor general and attorney general are decided to a large extent by the presidential race, voter turnout, enthusiasm among party regulars and intangible factors such as gender and geography.
The candidates are: Democrat Kathleen Kane of Clarks Summit and Republican David Freed of Camp Hill for attorney general; Republican John Maher of Upper St. Clair and Democrat Eugene DePasquale of York for auditor general; Diana Irey Vaughan, a Republican from Eighty Four, and Democrat Rob McCord of Bryn Mawr for treasurer.
There has been some polling, but most experts don't attach a great deal of weight to their results. The chunk of undecided voters is usually one-third or more. For the most part, the candidates are unknown statewide outside the circle of party regulars or their home counties. G. Terry Madonna, a pollster at Franklin and Marshall College, said he stopped polling in these races when undecided respondents hit 35 percent to 40 percent.
The attorney general's race is a little different in that considerable TV advertising is expected as Nov. 6 draws closer.
“For the most part, when you run in a presidential year you are at the mercy of the top of the ticket,” said Larry Ceisler, a Democrat strategist of Philadelphia. “The presidential race drives the turnout.”
While the presidential race is tightening in Pennsylvania, it is not yet considered a “battleground state.” Therefore, voters aren't seeing visits by the presidential candidates other than quick hits for fundraisers. The closer Romney keeps it in Pennsylvania, the more of a boost for the GOP row office candidates. An Obama blowout — winning double digits, might sink them.
“If I'm Freed, I want Romney to be looking at the polls and say, ‘We need to make some effort in Pennsylvania,' ” Ceisler said.
But here's the unknown factor: If Pennsylvania remains a nonpriority for the presidential campaigns, TV won't be cluttered by their ads and the independent PACs. About all we are seeing now is Democrat Bob Casey and Republican Tom Smith warring over the airwaves in the U.S. Senate race.
That leaves an opening for Kane and Freed to cut through and get some attention, said Ceisler, a public relations consultant.
The fact that Kane and Irey Vaughan are women might give them a boost in a field crowded with men. Voting for hometown favorites has been a tradition among Western Pennsylvania voters. That could help Maher and Vaughan.
And there are those intangibles. Central Pennsylvania voters and Penn State alumni across the state upset with the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child sex scandal — the firing of Joe Paterno and NCAA sanctions against the football team — “merge” their anger with questions fueled by Kane over Gov. Tom Corbett's handling of the Sandusky investigation as attorney general, said Wilkes University Professor Tom Baldino.
They may want to take it out on Freed, Corbett's hand-picked candidate.
Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405 or firstname.lastname@example.org).