And now, a showdown of the Toms

Posted: May 22, 2014

Voters, all few thousand of you, what did we learn from Tuesday's primary?

That a genial small-city businessman and political neophyte at age 65 with a Jeep, a beard, and a doctorate from MIT can become Pennsylvania's Democratic gubernatorial nominee, provided he pumps $10 million of his own lucre into the campaign, and saturates media markets early and often with inspired, folksy ads.

Welcome, Pennsylvania, to the Tom Tom Club, where incumbent Republican Tom Corbett will face Tom Wolf of York in November.

As for being overwhelmed by a sea of political ads, residents haven't seen anything yet. Despite the genial manner of both candidates, the forecast calls for negative campaigning.

It will be the best of Toms, it will be the worst of Toms.

Wolf came out swinging so early that the three other candidates, all with greater political experience in Harrisburg and Washington, never came close, including presumed front-runner U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, who has held elective office for nearly a quarter-century.

Next year, the Montgomery County Democrat will relinquish her House seat and the distinction of being the only woman in Congress representing the nation's sixth most populous state, which is more than half female.

This has not been a good political season for women candidates. It seems highly probable that Pennsylvania's congressional delegation will soon be all-male, all but one legislator white, more reminiscent of a 1972 boys' school than modern-day Pennsylvania.

In Schwartz's heavily Democratic district, State Rep. Brendan Boyle (with strong support from city labor and political bosses) crushed three challengers, besting two women, including former U.S. Rep. Marjorie Margolies.

Among Tuesday's biggest losers is state Treasurer Rob McCord, who opted to go nuclear against Wolf - which is the GOP's job - making head-shaking accusations of racism that backfired. Somebody gave McCord wretched advice, and McCord, who came in third, was a fool to take it. He kept attacking the soft-spoken Wolf, which, by the treasurer's own admission, was akin to sliming Mr. Rogers. It only made Wolf appear more likable. McCord may well be political toast.

I am sorry to report that, facing two capable and qualified challengers, Democratic State Sen. LeAnna "I am the blanking senator" Washington, facing criminal charges, did remarkably well. A former aide testified that Washington said, "I am the [blanking] senator, I do what the [blank] I want ... and ain't nobody going to change me," a slogan suitable for T-shirts but not representing constituents in the legislature.

The blanking senator has been charged with that old Harrisburg maneuver of confusing legislative staff with that of her campaign and, in the tradition of former State Sen. Vince Fumo, squandering campaign funds on surely the most important day of the year, her birthday. However, challenger Art Haywood was on the verge of being that somebody who was going to change the blanking senator's situation.

Overall, though, this has not proven a season of progress, unless your idea of change is a self-financed Jeep-driving millionaire from York.

All four Philadelphia Democratic state legislators implicated in the failed corruption sting shut down by state Attorney General Kathleen Kane will continue their illustrious careers in Harrisburg. In the ways of the ossified city Democratic machine, only one of the four politicians even faced a primary challenge.

In the nasty three-way race for the state's Second Senatorial District, Tina Tartaglione - of the celebrated House of Tartaglione - held onto her seat. The heated primary earned comparisons to Game of Thrones, a comparison that works only if the HBO medieval drama featured a family that tended to be foulmouthed, spoke with a thick Philadelphia accent, and frequented diners on the Roosevelt Boulevard.

The big loser in Tuesday's primary was an engaged electorate. Despite glorious weather, strong candidates in several races, and $30 million alone spent in the governor's race, turnout was pathetic, anemic, and embarrassing.

However, in good news for the bewhiskered, if Wolf wins in November, he will hold the distinction of becoming, since Samuel Whitaker Pennypacker, Pennsylvania's first bearded governor in more than a century.


kheller@phillynews.com

215-854-2586 @kheller

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