Allyson Schwartz's 'frontrunneritis'

MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz leads the Democratic gubernatorial candidates - and that status seems to be one of her biggest liabilities.
MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz leads the Democratic gubernatorial candidates - and that status seems to be one of her biggest liabilities.
Posted: January 28, 2014

FRONT-RUNNERS sometimes have it rough.

Expectations are high, scrutiny intense.

So it is with U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz in the multicandidate contest for the Democratic nod for governor.

As January slides into February, moving us closer to the May primary, Schwartz must be eager to see this month in her rearview mirror.

Even with the caveat that mirrored objects may seem larger than they are, Schwartz isn't having a great start to election year 2014.

Yes, she still leads in aggregate polling.

Yes, she has a broad base of support and contributors.

But she also has "front-runneritis" - in some cases drawing comparisons to New York's Christine Quinn: early favorite to succeed Mayor Michael Bloomberg; finished third in her Democratic primary.

Fair? Well, there was that January Philadelphia magazine profile teased on the cover with "Why Doesn't Anyone Like Allyson Schwartz?"

It provided surgical removal of her claim that as state senator in the '90s she was responsible for the celebrated Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and became known as "the mother of CHIP."

Those who worked the legislation said that Schwartz's claim is inaccurate, that credit belongs to former state Sen. Allen Kukovich and the late Gov. Bob Casey.

(Schwartz's campaign website says, "To this day, Allyson is known by many as 'the mother of CHIP.' " I assume the "many" means family and staff.)

The problem here isn't one of overinflating accomplishments. Almost every pol does that. The problem is that front-runners' records, comments and assertions always draw extensive examination.

There's also the fact that her front-runner status is due to being better-known inside politics, especially in Washington, than other candidates, thanks to years in Congress and name ID in the state's largest media market.

But that status hasn't been enhanced since she decided to run for governor.

It didn't discourage other credible candidates, such as Katie McGinty, Rob McCord and Tom Wolf, from getting in.

It hasn't helped Schwartz stand out in candidate forums, some of which she skipped.

It hasn't eased anxiety over assumptions that she's the Democrat against whom Gov. Corbett wants to run.

And although known for fundraising, it hasn't helped her corner the money market.

Deadline for finance reporting is Friday, but some campaigns already announced: Wolf, $13 million, including $10 million of his own; McCord $6.6 million; Schwartz, $6.5 million; McGinty, $2.4 million.

Some suggest that Schwartz never anticipated a real primary fight and is annoyed to be in the middle of one.

But is she stumbling?

A top Democratic insider speaking on condition of anonymity says, "It's not so much that Allyson's stumbling, it's that she hasn't knocked anybody out."

The field includes former state Environmental Secretary John Hanger, getting increased attention for his call to legalize and tax marijuana; Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski; Cumberland County minister Max Myers; and Lebanon County Commissioner Jo Ellen Litz.

Still, even those in competing campaigns say that they'd rather be Schwartz at this stage, and that the race remains hers to lose.

It's just that her front-runner thing is problematic.

When it was reported last week, for example, that Schwartz is leaving two national centrist groups as well as her seat on the House Budget Committee, it invited attention and arrows.

Oh, she's shedding vestiges of moderate politics to appeal to the liberal base of primary voters! Oh, she's ducking potential tough Budget Committee votes!

And so on. And that may be.

Schwartz passed on an offer to discuss this, but offered a prepared statement:

"I had long planned to step aside from other commitments. As such, I am ending my leadership role with New Democratic Coalition, honorary role with Third Way and service on House Budget Committee - to keep my focus serving the people of the 13th Congressional District, to winning this campaign for governor, and finally getting Pennsylvania back on track."

If she wins the primary.

She benefits from a crowded field and ill-defined differences among contenders.

If nothing changes, her front-runner status likely won't change, either. Just right now that status seems more burden than blessing - and that could change things.


Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer

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