Philly native Katie McGinty might be the political surprise of 2014

ASSOCIATED PRESS Kathleen McGinty is one Democrat to watch in the gubernatorial primary.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Kathleen McGinty is one Democrat to watch in the gubernatorial primary.
Posted: November 19, 2013

LET'S TALK about Katie McGinty.

For three reasons: Few people are doing so, she had an interesting finish in a recent poll and she could be the surprise of 2014.

Philly native McGinty is one of eight announced Democrats seeking to oppose Gov. Corbett next year. She's also one of four expected to a) stay in the race and b) have enough money to compete.

The others are Allyson Schwartz, Rob McCord and Tom Wolf.

McGinty isn't getting the buzz of front-running Schwartz or of McCord, both of whom get noticed in their current jobs (congresswoman, state treasurer). And Wolf, planning to spend $10 million of his own, will buy tons of attention when the time comes.

But keep your eye on McGinty.

She has an impressive resume with national connections. Supporters say she's raising lots of money. And her personal story is compelling.

Some details:

She grew up in Northeast Philly, the ninth of 10 kids, in a Cape Cod house on Summerdale Avenue, three bedrooms, one bath.

Dad was a Philly cop, mom a waitress.

"I'm in this race to use whatever talents God has given me to work for good and decent jobs for men and women. . . . I know the value of hard work," McGinty says.

She was first in her family to attend college: scholarship to St. Joe's; scholarship to Columbia Law.

She never practiced law (or took the bar exam) but clerked for a federal judge, and worked for then-Sen. Al Gore and for President Bill Clinton, becoming chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

She also spent more than a year in India as an energy-research fellow where she and her husband adopted two infant girls (now 14) from Mother Teresa's orphanage. The couple later added a "homegrown" daughter, now 12.

And McGinty was environmental secretary under Gov. Ed Rendell, the first woman to hold the post.

She says she's spent "25 years finding positive ways to get things done" in various public offices and offers "passionate but pragmatic leadership."

Here are reasons she could be a surprise:

A recent Harper Poll puts her second to Schwartz among primary voters. Prior polling also has her second. Since nobody in the race has strong name ID, this suggests Dems instinctively prefer a woman against Corbett.

You know, gender gap and all.

If that thinking holds, McGinty could have an edge: She's never held elected office so - unlike Schwartz - she has no voting record for opponents to shoot at.

Also, McGinty leads (though just ahead of McCord) in the Pittsburgh region. This is important. With no western candidate, the east should split and whoever does best in the west could win. Her campaign manager, Mike Mikus, is a political veteran who has run successful western Pennsylvania campaigns.

Gore is helping to raise California and national money. Clinton could help later, although it's unlikely he'd openly campaign in a contested primary in a state his wife would need if she runs for president in 2016.

So gender, experience, personal story, western focus and big-name connections are on McGinty's side.

Drawbacks?

As environmental secretary in 2007, she was targeted by Republicans because her agency gave grants to groups for which her husband consulted. And in 2009, the Supreme Court upheld an Ethics Commission ruling saying Cabinet secretaries in the future should have no role in grants that benefit spouses.

Might present a problem in a tight race.

Also, those who know her well note she's more policy-driven than politically experienced. In a crowded, competitive contest, deft politics are a requirement.

And she, like others, will be judged heavily by fundraising when we first see who has what in January.

But if she has dough, and if her western strength holds, expect a lot more talk about McGinty.


Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer

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