"She's making all the phone calls, taking all the meetings you would do to run for governor, but I don't think she's made her final decision," said Montgomery County Democratic Chairman Marcel Groen. He has estimated the chance of Schwartz's running at better than 80 percent.
A poll for the Democratic Governors Association last month found that Schwartz would start ahead of Corbett by 8 percentage points - 50 percent to 42 percent - with 9 percent of likely voters undecided. After pollsters read positive statements about each, Schwartz's lead increased to 21 percentage points.
The poll, conducted by the Benenson Strategy Group, is based on interviews with 600 likely voters from Jan. 15 to 17, and results are subject to a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Democrats are bullish on the race, given Corbett's low job approval and personal favorability scores in recent independent polls. If she runs, Schwartz may not have the field to herself, with several ambitious Democrats also laying the groundwork to challenge for the nomination.
State Treasurer Rob McCord, also a Montgomery County resident, will likely run for governor. Former state environmental secretary John Hanger already is doing so, and Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro has expressed interest. York County businessman Tom Wolf, owner of a company that distributes building supplies and a former state revenue secretary, is weighing a campaign, as is former U.S. Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper of Erie.
"Rob is focused on being the treasurer right now," said Mark Nevins, a strategist for McCord. "Political talk will have to wait for another day."
The Democratic Governors Association poll also found McCord would begin the race with a lead over Corbett, though by a smaller margin than Schwartz, according to sources who have seen it. The organization declined to discuss the poll results or say whether any other potential candidates were tested.
"I have a number of friends interested in the race, and I hope we can coalesce around a single candidate," Groen said. "The only one who wins from a significant primary fight is Gov. Corbett."
Schwartz has not yet set up a state candidate committee, aides said, a step she would have to take in order to transfer her cash from her federal campaign account.
Democrats say that Schwartz would be a formidable candidate, with a strong regional base in Southeastern Pennsylvania, fund-raising prowess, and a high profile as the state's first potential female governor.
On the other hand, Schwartz has made thousands of votes in Congress and as a state senator beforehand. That could provide ammunition for opponents. Some Democrats also note that the GOP could exploit Schwartz's strong record of supporting abortion rights - she ran a women's clinic before entering politics - and gun-control measures in vast reaches of the state.
Schwartz made abortion rights and gun control strong themes of her only other statewide run, in the 2000 Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. She came in second in a field of five candidates with 26 percent of the vote, to 41 percent for winner Ron Klink, then a Pittsburgh-area congressman.
In 2004, Schwartz was set to run for state auditor general, but her plans changed after then-Rep. Joseph Hoeffel, a Democrat from Montgomery County, decided to try to move up to the U.S. Senate. Schwartz was elected to the House seat.
Democratic strategists view Corbett as vulnerable. The Franklin & Marshall College Poll, for instance, pegged his approval rate at 26 percent - an all-time low in the two decades the survey has operated. Govs. Tom Ridge, a Republican, and Ed Rendell, a Democrat, had sloughs, too, but their numbers were trending up when they started running for reelection in 1998 and 2006, respectively.
"If Corbett wins, this would be the biggest political recovery for a governor since Milton Shapp," said Franklin & Marshall pollster G. Terry Madonna, speaking of the Democrat who was the first Pennsylvania chief executive eligible to seek a second term.
Contact Thomas Fitzgerald at 215-854-2718 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow on Twitter @tomfitzgerald. Read his blog, "The Big Tent," at www.philly.com/BigTent.