'Socially liberal' Hoeffel in guv run: Makes it official in stop here today

Posted: January 26, 2010

Joe Hoeffel wants to talk to you about abortion.

If you're a likely voter in the May 18 Democratic primary for governor, especially from southeastern Pennsylvania, Hoeffel really wants you to listen.

That's because Hoeffel - who spent 24 years as a county commissioner, congressman or in some other public post - is casting himself as the lone Democratic defender of "socially liberal and fiscally responsible" policies.

"I think that's a winning profile," Hoeffel said yesterday. "I believe that's what most Democrats and actually most Republicans want. I'm comfortable with this view. I certainly think it reflects southeastern Pennsylvania."

Hoeffel, 59, a declared candidate since September, will officially announce his run today with speeches in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Philadelphia.

Hoeffel touts himself as the "only truly pro-choice candidate in the race."

Two of his opponents, Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and state Auditor General Jack Wagner, oppose abortion. Onorato made a point during his October campaign launch in City Hall to say that he would not act to change the state's abortion laws.

Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty, long silent on the issue, declared himself pro-choice in September. Abortion opponents note that he signed their proclamation in 2003, declaring "Pennsylvanians for Human Life Day" in his city.

State Attorney General Tom Corbett, the Republican front-runner for governor, is facing a challenge from state Rep. Sam Rohrer, who is casting himself as the true conservative in that race. Both are anti-abortion.

Hoeffel rejects the notion that his election strategy is situated on the other end of the political spectrum from Rohrer.

In a clear bid for moderate voters, Hoeffel notes that he has worked cooperatively in the past year with Montgomery County Commission Chairman Jim Matthews, a Republican.

Hoeffel served as a Montgomery County Commissioner in the 1990s until he was elected in 1998 to Congress from the 13th District, which covers about half of Montgomery County and a section of Northeast Philadelphia down to Allegheny Avenue. He served three terms in the U.S. House, stepping down in 2004 for an unsuccessful run to oust U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter.

In that race, Hoeffel took a stand that could be seen as principled or exploitative. He was arrested in a protest outside the Sudanese Embassy in Washington, D.C. While the genocide in the Darfur region of that country had made national news, it wasn't on the radar in the Senate race.

Hoeffel said that he protested after seeing a New York congressman on CNN being arrested at the embassy the previous week. Specter swiftly accused Hoeffel of grandstanding for publicity.

Specter raised more than three campaign dollars for every one that Hoeffel collected, and won the race by more than 10 points. Hoeffel carried four of the state's 67 counties - Philadelphia, Allegheny, Beaver and Fayette.

Hoeffel again sought public office, very briefly declaring a run for lieutenant governor in 2006 as Gov. Rendell was running for re-election with Lieutenant Governor Catherine Baker Knoll.

Rendell persuaded Hoeffel to drop out and then gave him a job as deputy secretary of the state Department of Community and Economic Development. That left Rendell open to claims of a backroom deal with Hoeffel.

Hoeffel in 2007 ran successfully again for the Montgomery County Commission. He and Matthews struck a governing deal, effectively isolating Republican Bruce Castor on the commission.

Castor said that Hoeffel saw the Democratic field for governor crowded by moderates and decided to make a bid for liberals.

"It has nothing to do with being progressive," Castor said. "It has to do with politics. That's the Joe Hoeffel method."

Hoeffel, who must file a 2009 state campaign fundraising report on Monday, said that he raised a "little over $400,000" last year.

An Onorato spokesman said that he raised $2.8 million in 2008 and will report raising "considerably more" for 2009.

Doherty said that he raised $441,369 to run for governor in 2009 while also raising $674,793 to win his third term as mayor.

Wagner yesterday said that he will report raising "less than a million" in 2009, but did not know the exact number yet.

The withdrawal last week of Philadelphia businessman Tom Knox - who was expected to spend $10 million to $20 million of his own money - from the Democratic primary left Hoeffel as the only candidate in what his campaign calls the state's "vote-rich southeast."

That clearly is Hoeffel's base. A Quinnipiac University poll last month asked potential voters how they would react to a match-up between Hoeffel and Corbett. Hoeffel scored 30 percent of the vote to Corbett's 46 percent.

The poll also showed that Hoeffel had the highest favorable rating in Philadelphia, compared to Corbett, Onorato, Wagner and Doherty. But a large majority of those polled said that they hadn't heard enough about any of those candidates to make up their minds.

Hoeffel wasn't the only candidate counting Knox's departure from the race as good news. Knox, who endorsed Onorato, said that he would call Onorato's opponents this week to urge them to drop out of the primary.

Hoeffel yesterday said that he still hasn't heard from Knox.