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In governor races, Democrats to push increase in minimum wage

| Monday, Dec. 30, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

HARRISBURG — Republican governors running for re-election next year are looking to capitalize on distaste for Washington gridlock and President Obama's dropping public approval amid the bumpy rollout of his signature health care law — and Democratic challengers may need to respond with a popular cause.

A minimum wage increase could be the answer.

Democrats vying to challenge a slew of Republican governors are talking up an increase as their campaigns get off the ground 11 months before the election.

Polls say it's publicly popular, it revives the message of economic inequality that Obama wielded effectively last year and it comes wrapped in a broader jobs and economic message that touches on the top priority of many voting Americans.

In Pennsylvania, championing a minimum wage increase is popular among the big field of Democrats vying to challenge the re-election bid of Gov. Tom Corbett.

Now Katie McGinty, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection under former Gov. Ed Rendell, is distinguishing herself by telling audiences and potential donors that she was the first Democrat in the Pennsylvania field to make it an issue.

“This is core for me,” McGinty said. “I think it is fundamentally true across the centuries that one of the things that can really bring a nation down is the increasing chasm in terms of income.”

Thus far, the Republicans whom Democrats view as most vulnerable are not changing their minds and supporting it.

Besides Corbett, the Democrats' list of most vulnerable includes Maine's Paul LePage, Michigan's Rick Snyder and Wisconsin's Scott Walker.

Florida's Rick Scott and Ohio's John Kasich might be insulated because their states' laws boost minimum wage with inflation, and Iowa's Terry Branstad, New Mexico's Susanna Martinez and Nevada's Brian Sandoval are not viewed as sufficiently endangered.

All of those governors won a first term in the national Republican sweep of 2010, and most have had strong GOP representation in their legislatures to support them.

Republican governors are focused on lightening tax and regulatory burdens for businesses to improve wages, said Jon Thompson, a spokesman for the Republican Governors Association.

But he seemed to acknowledge the occasional political necessity for Republicans to embrace a minimum wage increase.

“It's complicated because there are some states that a minimum wage increase could be more helpful and useful than other states,” Thompson wrote in an email.

For Democrats, Obama got the ball rolling on the issue by calling for an increase in his February budget speech, and union-organized demonstrations in front of profitable mega-chains such as Wal-Mart and McDonald's have kept it in the public eye.

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