Politics as pugilism: Punching down to elevate an opponent

Allyson Schwartz: Has eyes on Corbett's job.
Allyson Schwartz: Has eyes on Corbett's job.
Posted: October 11, 2013

CLOUT HAS ALWAYS been captivated by "punching up," the practice in which little-known politicians swing haymakers at well-known foes just so folks will think they're standing in the same ring.

The practice has another side - seen less often - where high-profile pols punch down to tactically elevate an opponent.

That's what Gov. Corbett appears to be doing these days with U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, one of eight Democrats vying in the May 20 primary election for the nomination to challenge his bid for a second term.

Judging from the jabs Corbett is throwing at Schwartz these days, you might think they were already engaged in the political pugilism of a general election.

Schwartz took note this week when asked about Corbett's attacks on her proposal to fund education and infrastructure with a tax on natural-gas drillers.

"I'm engaged in a general-election debate," Schwartz said. "It's already beginning. I think that's good for Pennsylvanians."

Mike Barley, Corbett's campaign manager, declined to say if Schwartz is the Democrat his boss hopes to face next year. He said Schwartz looks to be a front-runner in the primary so far and has a long record of votes in the state General Assembly and U.S. House to examine closely.

"I think it's a good contrast to her record, which has been raising taxes and growing government," Barley said.

The Republican Party has also targeted Schwartz, with Chairman Rob Gleason this week releasing a Web ad that attacks "the Obama-Schwartz war on Pennsylvania energy and jobs."

Bruce Castor, a Montgomery County commissioner who flirted with a primary challenge against Corbett, agrees the governor is pulling for Schwartz to win the Democratic primary.

"I think all of us who pay any attention to this believe that Allyson Schwartz is the candidate that Tom Corbett has the best chance to beat," Castor said. "That doesn't mean that he will. But that is who they're hoping to run against."

Bill Green, a Pittsburgh political consultant who worked for former Gov. Dick Thornburgh, said Schwartz's history of operating a Philadelphia women's clinic where abortions were performed before running for office is likely a factor in the tactics.

That and her voting record gives Corbett general-election fodder that wouldn't be as available for other Democratic candidates such as state Treasurer Rob McCord or former state Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf.

"I think they perceive her as probably the antithesis of Tom Corbett - an eastern Pennsylvania liberal that operated an abortion clinic," Green said. "They see that comparison between a western Pennsylvania conservative and clearly the lines are more black and white than the would be against McCord or Wolf."

A D.A. debate after all

After considerable debate about debating, the candidates for district attorney in Philadelphia have agreed to face each other before the Nov. 5 general election.

Incumbent Seth Williams, a Democrat finishing his first term, will debate Republican Danny Alvarez, a defense attorney who previously worked at the District Attorney's Office. The debate will be hosted by the "Larry Kane: Voice of Reason" program on the Comcast Network, taped next Thursday to be aired at 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20.

Kane, who steers clear of the sometimes stodgy question-answer-rebuttal format of some debates, hosted an energetic exchange among the three Democratic primary election candidates for city controller in May.

Williams last week declined an offer from the Committee of Seventy, a good-government group, to host a debate with Alvarez.

Alvarez has demanded a debate (see punching up, Page 5).

Quotable:

" He said, you know, I served in Vietnam, and we veterans saw a lot of s--- that the rest of common Americans never saw, but it made me and my fellow veterans humble." - Former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, a former U.S. Navy admiral and likely 2016 candidate for the U.S. Senate, proving he can still curse like a sailor while recounting on MSNBC on Wednesday something a taxi driver told him that day about how the federal government shutdown affects the military and veterans.


Phone: 215-854-5973

On Twitter: @ChrisBrennanDN

Blog: ph.ly/phillyclout

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