Odd stuff at the last Democratic debate

The Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls (from left): Rob McCord, Katie McGinty, Allyson Schwartz and Tom Wolf. Who will go up against Corbett in November? PHOTOS: TOM GRALISH / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
The Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls (from left): Rob McCord, Katie McGinty, Allyson Schwartz and Tom Wolf. Who will go up against Corbett in November? PHOTOS: TOM GRALISH / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Posted: May 15, 2014

NOW FOR SOME snarky observations from the final debate in the Democratic primary for governor held Monday night at Drexel University.

Candidates were seated and questioned in alphabetical order.

This has been the pattern in dozens of forums/debates since January. It means Tom Wolf goes last.

Maybe that helps explain why he's first in the polls.

Maybe after voters hear Rob McCord, Katie McGinty and Allyson Schwartz, polished presenters of the sort of self-confident aggression, hype and enthusiasm common to politics, the soft-spoken, mild-mannered Wolf seems refreshing.

McCord refers to Wolf as the "Mr. Rogers candidate," evoking the late Fred Rogers of public broadcasting's long-running (1968-2001) children's TV series "Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood."

McCord may be on to something. Rogers and Wolf both are native Pennsylvanians. Both attended Dartmouth. Both appeared on TV wearing sweaters - the latter in what McCord calls Wolf's "fuzzy" ads.

But I gather the comparison isn't meant as a compliment.

McCord, you may know, attacks Wolf on multiple fronts (as does Schwartz, with less passion), including accusing Wolf of tolerating racism for supporting re-election of a York mayor charged, and later acquitted, in a murder case from a 1969 race riot.

McCord was chastised by top Democrats including former Gov. Ed Rendell and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey for running a TV ad seeking to tie Wolf to racism.

It sure hasn't seemed to work.

Wolf yesterday was endorsed by the Philadelphia Tribune, the self-proclaimed "voice of the African American community." He just was endorsed by Philly Democratic state Sen. Vincent Hughes, former chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. And he's backed by York's first African-American mayor, Kim Bracey.

Plus, a new Franklin & Marshall College poll shows that Wolf remains well-ahead, while McCord runs third with what poll director G. Terry Madonna calls "a notable increase" in unfavorable ratings.

After Monday's final debate, in which McCord again pressed Wolf hard, McCord and Wolf shook hands on the stage of Drexel's Mandell Theater.

Because I was a debate questioner (not as in I question the value or sanity of debates; as in I asked questions during the debate), I'm standing beside them.

McCord launches a riff about his attacks not being personal; he only wanted to drive "a conversation" about race issues.

Wolf is having none of it.

"I'd like to believe that," Wolf says, but if that's the case (now I'm paraphrasing), "then why didn't we have a conversation?"

It was pretty chilly under the klieg lights.

The other moment of note for me was during the debate when a young female anti-fracking demonstrator stormed the stage.

Because of when it happened, I thought she was a Schwartz plant.

I'd just quoted Schwartz her own campaign statement accusing Wolf of failing "the leadership test" for standing behind friends and allies "no matter how offensive, unethical or immoral their conduct."

I ask if that means she won't support Wolf if he wins the primary, or can she support someone she believes fails "the leadership test."

For one second Schwartz seems off-balance and uses the old stall-for-time response, "Actually, that's an interesting question . . . "

At that moment, the demonstrator shouts, "These candidates all failed the leadership test," runs up onstage, disrupts the event and buys Schwartz an out.

Hmm. I'm thinking maybe Schwartz said, "Listen, if I say 'actually that's an interesting question,' you cause a ruckus and come up onstage."

(OK, I'm pretty sure that didn't happen, but from a purely entertainment perspective I love the idea of a candidate planning - or planting - ahead.)

At any rate, all known polling a week from Election Day suggests without a monumental shift or devastating act of nature this primary is primed to be remembered as "the season of the Wolf."


Email: baerj@phillynews.com

Blog: ph.ly/BaerGrowls

Columns: ph.ly/JohnBaer

 

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