Politically Uncorrected: The All of the Above Election

election-1Before Election Day, the outcome is unknown while the possibilities are numerous. Post-election, we know exactly what happened. The problem is to make some sense of it.

Here are six succinct take aways that try to make some sense of what happened to Pennsylvania Democrats in their May 20th primary, while suggesting what it may mean for the November general election:

  • Early money matters, but early money used well matters most. The Wolf campaign struck early and often with effective advertising and shrewd time buys that put his better known opponents on the defensive – a position from which they never recovered. Wolf was not the first gubernatorial candidate to use this early-and-often strategy. Milton Shapp pioneered it back in 1970 with similar results. In 1994, Republican Tom Ridge followed a similar path. Underestimating any opponent, especially a well-funded one, is always dangerous and frequently fatal. Three former candidates for governor now know that.
  • The May 20th Democratic contest might be called an “all of the above” race. Certainly, disparate parts of the party structure favored and supported various candidates. But none of the candidates was unacceptable as the nominee. Energetic opposition by any significant wing of the party to any of the candidates was absent. Fractious primaries often lead to divided parties that lose in the fall. If Democrats lose in the fall, it won’t have anything to do with the primary. Instead, the passion to defeat Tom Corbett in November was palpable and paramount throughout the campaign, producing a race virtually guaranteed to put a united party behind the ultimate winner.
  • Now trite, but still true, a good “air war” beats a good “ground war” every time. Tom Wolf’s early and excellent media advertising was some of the best Pennsylvania has seen. But Wolf didn’t have the major endorsements or field organization enjoyed by his opponents. These were shared mainly between Allyson Schwartz and Rob McCord, both of whom could have potentially benefited from well-run Election Day organizations. But phone banks, doorbell ringing and even social media can’t compete with a well-planned and expertly executed statewide presence on TV. However, in the end, media beats foot leather. It has for a long time.
  • Rookies don’t win in Pennsylvania – except when they do. Wolf is an amateur politician by any standard and most rookies, running statewide in Pennsylvania, are like the proverbial “nice guy.” They finish last. Except, Wolf never got the memo. Instead, he ran a flawless campaign going through the rigors of the contest without a major misstep. The essence of equanimity, Wolf even when attacked, remained unfailingly polite. It is true that he had an impressive campaign team supporting him, a large amount of money available to him, and a well thought out strategy that served him well. But it’s fair to say that Wolf is a different candidate than usually seen in Pennsylvania. It is far too early to fully evaluate him – but not too early to predict he will continue to surprise.
  • Negative advertising is not always effective. One of the myths of modern campaigning is that negative advertising is usually necessary to win and always effective. It wasn’t here. The barrage of negative ads aimed at Wolf, toward the end of the campaign, caused minimal damage to him and possibly hurt his opponents more than him. That’s largely because negative advertising works best when it addresses something voters care about, it is perceived as being fair and it is considered credible. Most of the negative ads aimed at Wolf failed one or all of these criteria. Voters didn’t care about them, didn’t like them, and didn’t believe them. But Wolf’s campaign also demonstrated that it isn’t necessary for a candidate under attack to answer with their own negative ads. Wolf ran a virtually 100 percent positive campaign and he won. That will be remembered – and it should be.
  • Women running for governor still appear to be a hard sell to the Pennsylvania electorate. Allyson Schwartz is just the latest casualty of what the New York Times has described as a possible “glass ceiling” limiting women candidates in Pennsylvania and several other northeastern states. Both parties have now offered qualified women for governor and both have failed, either in primaries or in the general election. It is unclear when or what will shatter the “glass ceiling.” What is clear is the reality that women aspiring to high office in Pennsylvania confront formidable barriers.

What do these results mean for November? Wolf has impressively passed his first test but another, perhaps greater, one lies ahead. Tom Corbett may be unpopular, but he has amply demonstrated his intention to wage an aggressive re-election campaign – something he has the resources to do. Nevertheless, Corbett has signaled his concern about running against Wolf. He has taken the virtually unprecedented step of running negative ads against Wolf during the Democratic primary. What’s certain is that Pennsylvanian’s are going to experience an exciting, hard fought race to select their next governor. The Democrat’s new nominee rejects politics as usual, which the 2014 gubernatorial race isn’t likely to be.

May 21st, 2014 | Posted in Features, Front Page Stories, Top Stories | 2 Comments

2 thoughts on “Politically Uncorrected: The All of the Above Election”

  1. RKowaluk says:

    I watched the debates and looked into all the candidates, all original 7 or 8 of them. Tom did not stick out in the debates, but I was down to Tom, Allyson and Rob before the rest dropped out. Allyson’s affiliation with big money and Third Way left Rob and Tom. I was always impressed by Tom’s approach, even when he served under Ed Rendell, so when Rob started attacking Tom, it made it clear who I got my vote.

    I had enough of the negative ads that started after Citizens United. If you can’t win on your own merits, you don’t deserve to win.

  2. ChuckBronson says:

    The results are only unknown to Madonna. I believe he was only one of 3 people in the state that did not know Wolf was going to win, the other two were McCord and Schwartz. Wolf won because he had by far and away the best campaign team. He surrounded himself with campaign professionals who have the experience and knowledge without the benefit of hindsight which Mr. Madonna so readily enjoys.

    Wolf had a powerful story to tell and his team did a tremendous job telling it. They defined their candidate, and those opinions were not swayed by the negatives thrown by McCord and Schwartz.

    PA will have a woman governor. My guess it will be in the next decade, and her name will be Kathleen Kane. She fits PA in ways that Schwartz did not. The real lesson for female candidate is there are at least 3 Pennsylvania’s. You cannot appeal to just one and hope to win. PA is a very diverse state, even in the party primaries. You have to cast your net wide and find a common core. Those are the successful candidates in PA, regardless of gender. Tom Wolf and his campaign team did that masterfully. They deserve the highest praise and not Monday morning quarterbacking from a pollster who was not even with 20% of the final result.

    Job well done WolfPack!

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