Democratic race for governor wide open, experts tell Trib
By Brad Bumsted and Melissa Daniels
Published: Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013, 10:30 p.m.
HARRISBURG — Rep. Allyson Schwartz and state Treasurer Rob McCord might have an edge in the 2014 Democratic primary for governor, but analysts warn it's too early to predict who will emerge from a batch of candidates to take on Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.
The prospective field includes a pastor, a mayor, a county commissioner, three Cabinet members of former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and possibly former state Auditor General Jack Wagner, who lost the Democratic primary for Pittsburgh mayor in May.
Wagner of Beechview has said he will make a decision about the governor's race by year's end.
The Democrats' enthusiasm stems from Corbett's consistently low poll ratings.
Pennsylvania's gubernatorial race “leans Democratic,” according to the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. The center's Crystal Ball publication called Corbett the most vulnerable governor up for re-election, but he is fresh off what supporters consider a major victory with passage of one of his priorities: a $2.3 billion transportation revenue bill that is likely to raise gasoline taxes at the pumps.
Who's got a shot to win with the primary more than six months away? Schwartz and McCord, both of Montgomery County, received the highest ratings from five political scientists completing a questionnaire for the Tribune-Review. Three of the five analysts picked them as “very likely” to win if the election were held now.
Some cautioned that it's early, voters don't know the candidates, and others might jump into the race.
“Most voters don't know any of these people,” said Jack Treadway, former chairman of the political science department at Kutztown State University.
“Looking at the field now, it's pretty much underwhelming, and I say that as a Democrat,” said Treadway, who is retired.
It's “nothing more than name recognition at this point,” said W. Wesley McDonald, a political science professor at Elizabethtown College. The race could be turned upside down if Attorney General Kathleen Kane enters it, McDonald said.
“Her prodigious fundraising is already sucking the oxygen out of the room for the rest of the candidates,” he said.
Kane held fundraisers this fall in Philadelphia and Harrisburg. In August, she reiterated that she is not running in 2014.
Schwartz leads in independent polls. She has served in Congress since 2005 and before that in the state Senate.
McCord, a more recent entry in the primary contest, has won statewide office twice.
“The race is wide open,” insisted Mary Isenhour, a Democratic consultant for York businessman Tom Wolf.
Wolf, the owner of a furniture-making company and former secretary of Revenue, has said he will spend $10 million of his own money to win.
Wolf was rated relatively low in the Trib's informal survey. But Christopher Borick, a political science professor who was not a participant, said Wolf is among the candidates who could break through to the top tier.
“Start with his resources. He also has a personal narrative that can be packaged pretty well,” said Borick. “It's a broad background that includes business, public service and government.”
But Wolf “with his millions to spend simply has no political base and has never held elective office,” said Joseph DiSarro, chairman of the political science department at Washington & Jefferson College.
Neither has Katie McGinty, daughter of a Philadelphia police officer, who has experience in state and federal government. But she “is a candidate with some upside,” Borick said.
Her “blue-collar background plays in Western Pennsylvania,” said DiSarro.
“I am very impressed with her outreach to groups in Western Pennsylvania, especially the business community,” DiSarro said. “I would consider her the best politician in the race given her cross-over appeal (liberal-conservative) and excellent staff.”
If Kane doesn't run, McDonald thinks Schwartz and McGinty “lead the pack. ... I think the Democrats will really want to run a woman against Corbett.”
The governor's poll numbers have lagged among female voters.
T.J. Rooney, chairman of McGinty's campaign, said they aren't thinking about Wolf's money or Schwartz's standing in the polls. “Our challenge is to put Katie in front of as many people as we can,” Rooney said. “People like her. She can connect. If we do what we need to do, she can win.”
Wagner, if he decides to run, “has a strong base in the West” and he's won statewide office twice as auditor general, said Tom Baldino, political science professor at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre. Baldino puts Wagner in the most-likely-to-win category with Schwartz and McCord. The three have the most name recognition — Schwartz in the “vote-rich Southeast,” Baldino said.
In the Trib's informal survey of political analysts, John Hanger, who like McGinty is a former Department of Environmental Protection secretary, finished fourth, given Schwartz and McCord were tied for the top score. He's also a former Public Utility Commission member.
“He is limited as to any significant political base and has never held elective office,” DiSarro cautioned.
Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski has a base in the state's third-largest city, and Baldino ranks him “somewhat likely” with Wolf, McGinty and Hanger.
The other candidates are Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz and Max Myers, a Mechanicsburg pastor.
Brad Bumsted and Melissa Daniels are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Bumsted can be reached at 717-787-1405 or email@example.com. Daniels can be reached at 412-380-8511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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