Is Democratic race for governor over, or stalled?

Posted: April 01, 2014

CASUAL observers could be confused by the Democratic race for governor.

There's a cabinetmaker who's nice to workers, drives a Jeep, looks like a Midwest college professor and has tons of TV ads.

There's a high-energy Irishwoman who was one of like 22 children and lived in a house without a bathroom.

There's another guy who was so poor he never got meat so he went to Harvard.

And there's the search for Allyson Schwartz.

First, some numbers: four candidates, five dropped out, seven weeks to the May 20 primary. I don't know, maybe 312 "forums," debates and meet-and-greets.

So let's check in on Campaign '14.

It doesn't feel like an Arab Spring.

The last Franklin & Marshall poll showed half (48 percent) of the voters undecided, which might mean uninterested, although that makes little sense given supposed fervor over ousting incumbent Republican Gov. Corbett.

A new F&M poll's due out this week. So we'll see.

One thing we'll see is whether multimillionaire Tom Wolf, the Jeep guy who owns America's largest cabinet-supply company, still owns a huge lead thanks to all that TV; and whether remaining candidates - meatless Rob McCord, energetic Katie McGinty, stealthy Schwartz - remain way behind.

McCord and McGinty have TV bio spots about rough starts in life: dietary rough for McCord, who says his family couldn't afford meat; Northeast Philly, one-bathroom rough for McGinty, who actually was one of 10 kids.

Meanwhile, Schwartz is M.I.A.

There are so many questions about when she'll start TV that her campaign invited media to guess: The "winner" gets a postprimary sit-down with Schwartz.

In other words, no prize.

But there is an election. Is it already over, or simply stalled?

Candidates don't show much difference on major issues or ideology.

Each has a story of personal success. Each could mount a strong challenge to Corbett. Each faces finding enough primary votes to have that chance.

The state has 4 million registered Democrats (1.5 million, 38 percent, in the Philly region). If history's a guide, fewer than a third will vote May 20.

It's a nonpresidential year, with not much else around to pump turnout in one area over another.

In the 2010 four-way Democratic primary for governor, turnout was 24 percent.

(That was a really lackluster race, but there was interest in the Senate primary between Joe Sestak and Arlen Specter.)

So far, only Wolf is separate from the pack, thanks to $10 million in self-financing and an ongoing stream of well-made ads.

He pitches himself as a breath of fresh air, a caring 1 percenter, not a career pol, "a different kind of candidate."

Barring big blunders, he'll be hard to catch.

State Treasurer McCord is trying.

His substantial TV buy includes an ad saying he's the only Democrat to beat Corbett (on lottery privatization), the only Democrat seeking a hike in the hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.70 (others support a hike to $10.10) and the only Democrat calling for a 10 percent natural-gas-drilling tax (McGinty favors a "reasonable tax"; Wolf and Schwartz a 5 percent tax).

Former state Environmental Secretary McGinty stresses her "passion" for public service, her working-class background and her commitment to fight for the middle class on jobs and education.

But her path to glory is limited by resources and reliance on others' stumbles.

Rep. Schwartz stresses leadership and experience. Spokesman Mark Bergman says, "When voters are tuned in, paying attention, they'll see Allyson Schwartz is the only candidate with a record of getting things done."

They'll also see whether Schwartz was smart to wait for voter focus or foolish to stay sidelined while Wolf built a lead.

As in life, rise and fall is common in campaigns. There's time for Wolf to fall and for others to rise. But even casual observers soon should see if this race is already over or not.


Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer

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