How Allyson Schwartz was transformed from front-runner to distant second place.

Allyson SchwartzIn 2000, then-State Senator Allyson Schwartz ran statewide for the Democratic nomination to challenge U.S. Senator Rick Santorum. The only woman in a field with 5 men, Schwartz raised and spent nearly $2 million – an impressive sum at the time, and 1/3 more than her closest competitor. But when the votes were cast, Schwartz finished in distant second place with only 26.5% of the vote.

Fourteen years later, after spending a decade in Congress and more than $20 million promoting herself in various campaigns, Schwartz – who spent much of this year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary being hailed as the frontrunner – once again ended up in distant second place, garnering only 18% of the vote. The magnitude of her collapse was startling. Not only did Schwartz fail to win her home base of Philadelphia and Montgomery counties, but she finished fourth in nearly every county outside of the greater Philadelphia region. 50,000 fewer Democrats voted for Schwartz in 2014 than in 2000, despite significant growth in the number of registered Democrats in Pennsylvania.

Given Pennsylvania’s poor record in electing women to office – only 17% of our state legislators are women – some may misinterpret Schwartz’s loss as more evidence of how difficult it is for women to win office in the Keystone State. There’s no question that sexism plagues American politics, and that women face additional hurdles to get elected. But there’s ample evidence that Schwartz’s two resounding statewide defeats are due more to her actions and record than her gender.

After Kathleen Kane became the first woman and the first Democrat ever elected Attorney-General, in a landslide that saw her draw more votes than President Obama or Senator Casey, some political pundits proclaimed the dawn of a new era. Dismissing Kathleen’s hard work, some attributed her victory to her gender. The longtime Montgomery County chairman Marcel Groen told the Inquirer that Kane, “is a moderate woman, which is attractive in the Philadelphia suburbs. She was qualified, and she was attractive to look at…You put those three things together and you don’t screw up, and you’ve got a winning campaign.”

The Schwartz campaign adopted part of this condescending subtext, arguing that Schwartz was best positioned to harness the energy that propelled Kane to statewide prominence.

But this revealed a fundamental ignorance of Kathleen Kane’s appeal to voters. Kane burst on to the scene as “a prosecutor, not a politician” who had never run for office before and who, despite her strong prosecutorial credentials, was opposed by most of the Democratic party establishment….including, notably, Allyson Schwartz, who cut a TV ad praising Kane’s male primary opponent.

After 23 years in Harrisburg and Washington, Allyson Schwartz presented a very different profile. She ran for Governor as the unbeatable frontrunner, trumpeting her institutional endorsements and years of experience as an elected official. Her language on the stump was often mired in legislative details and accomplishments. Her first television ad focused on her success in passing “CHIP,” leaving viewers scratching their heads about what it was (a worthy initiative to provide health insurance to children).

In Kane’s most memorable 2012 ad, she pledged to stand up to “the good ol’ boys in Harrisburg.” When Schwartz mimicked that language last month by criticizing the “old boys club” in Harrisburg, it fell flat because she simultaneously sent cues that she was part of that establishment.

Schwartz also made a series of tactical blunders. Her campaign spent an astounding $1.9 million in 2013 with little to show for it…money that could’ve been better spent when Wolf surged from the back of the pack to the lead.

In 2002, Ed Rendell was trailing Bob Casey Jr. by a broad margin in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. But Rendell surged into the lead after Casey let him have a month alone on TV to introduce himself; Casey was never able to strip those supporters off Rendell. This year, Tom Wolf started running TV ads on January 30, yet Schwartz didn’t begin running her ads until 9 weeks later. Schwartz had fewer resources than Wolf, but she could’ve started her TV campaign earlier if she hadn’t wasted so much money a year before Democrats voted.

By the time she did start to run TV ads, she did so in a puzzling manner….her first three ads were exclusively her talking, even though Schwartz was not a compelling performer. Most Pennsylvanians are wary of Philadelphia politicians, as evidenced by the fact that Rendell is the only Philadelphian elected Governor since World War I, yet Schwartz’s final ad branded her as “Philadelphia’s own.”

Schwartz started the race as the front-runner and she was well-funded enough to remain competitive. Tom Wolf deserves credit for running a very good campaign, but the size of his victory ultimately has a great deal to do with the campaign that Schwartz ran.

*Gifford Pinchot is a pseudonym for a long-time observer and operative in PA Democratic politics

48 Responses

  1. My business partners were searching for PA form MV-145A earlier this week and encountered a great service with a searchable database . If you require PA form MV-145A too , here’s

  2. Allyson Schwartz has more experience than Tom Wolf, Ron McCord, and Kathy McGlinchey all put together, but the ultraconservatives in the rest of the state were afraid she might win.

  3. Schwartz NEVER connected with viewers nor voters. They had no feel for her or who she was.

    So, she could have set her hair on fire and nobody paid attention to her so all her slung mud went psszt.

    Truthfully, I still don’t know what she would have done as Gov. that was any different than Wolf and I didn’t see any unique characteristics of hers that said she would be any better at leading than Wolf.
    Wolf— took likeability
    Wolf—owned the issues
    Wolf— looked anti-corbett enough
    Wolf— has a vision PA wants
    Wolf— ran clean and voters gravitated to that
    Wolf— never let them stick mud on him, he rebutted every attack skillfully

    Lets give a great deal of credit to Wolf’s consultants because their election plan worked perfectly.

    Now, things get different as Corbett’s polling shows that people don’t want taxes raised yet they want potholes fixed and education restored.
    Corbett will say TAX FRACKED GAS = JOBS LOST. Which is not true, Gov. Perry will tell you all about that.

  4. Sexism definitely played a big role in Allyson Schwartz’s defeat and the losses of Katie McGinty. The crazy conservatives in the rural part of Pennsyltucky hate women, they hate women who are pro-choice, and they hate women who want to be leaders. They are the reason Tom Wolf won.

  5. Alyson Schwartz didn’t get Gov nod because of OBAMACARE! She was a co-sponsor of OBAMACARE which, in my opinion, is and has been extremely unpopular. Also the fact that she voted lock step for Obama’s agenda, again in my opinion, further hurting the American people. As for AG Kane that was mentioned in this article, I am strongly of the opinion that Kane needs to be impeached for incompetency and violation of her oath of office.

  6. 1. This a spot-on analysis of the problem with Allyson Schwartz’ campaign.
    2. It’s funny how all the national press blames Schwartz’s loss on being too moderate (and they always mention Third Way), but that bunk never comes up within the boundaries of the state.
    3. Let’s not kid ourselves, sexism did play a role in this campaign for both Schwartz and McGinty. It just wasn’t a deciding factor.

  7. Two other things beat Schwartz and McCord. Neither one of them could be bothered to get out of urban areas to visit smaller counties. True, you can’t win a primary in those counties, but you can sure lose it by dissing them. Tom Wolf went everywhere. Of course, there’s this other thing I haven’t heard anybody point this out. Am I imagining it or did “Top Line On The Ballot” win again in both the gubernatorial and lt. gubernatorial races?

  8. Chris Martinez sure has some cartoonishly shallow and distorted views about Central PA.

  9. Chris, I am very much pro-choice in fact it’s one of my biggest issue but I’m also not a one issue voter. Plus, there are plenty of men who are just as strong on women’s health issues. So please do not assume to know anything about me.

  10. Let’s stop the moaning that PA is woman un-friendly to candidates. Schwartz was flawed. period. Also the failure of Schwartz or McCord to go up earlier with advertising hurt them badly. Wolf put up ads in the dead of winter when people were home to see them and he is a good candidate. The majority of self-financed candidates fail because they aren’t as competent as Wolf.

  11. The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly: it must confine itself to a few facts and repeat them constantly.
    Mr Wolf understood the nature of propaganda and had the resources to propagate it. The relatively small turnout ensured that sufficient moths came to his flame. Ms Schwartz and the others also understood technique but their resources were insufficient to repeat their few facts repetitively enough.

  12. I didn’t read all the comments. Frankly I got bogged down in a rather sophomoric argument about “nut cases in Central PA” who hated Schwartz.
    Wolf defined himself early and positively. Schwartz was invisible. Katie McGinty started a flight of biographical spots. Schwartz was invisible. She and McCord began their on-air campaign about the same time. McCord tried to out-Wolf Wolf. Schwartz 1) focused on her state service and tried to ignore her time in DC and alternately 2), attacked Wolf in an inept fashion.
    Inept is the operative word. Schwartz wasn’t done in by sexism, anti-choiceism and any other kind of fancied “ism”. She was done in by the ineptitude of her campaign.
    Thumb-sucking about “Central PA anti-choice nut cases” won’t change that.

  13. Tony, Katherine Kane won because she said she would bring Corbett to justice for the Sandusky crimes and for not locking him up a long time ago.

  14. BGDem, if you are really a woman and you didn’t vote for a woman who fights for healthy children and for women’s rights, you are probably a pro-life fanatic.

  15. Chris Martinez-

    She couldn’t even run a campaign, let alone a state.

    Her campaign was an obvious disaster by August. She couldn’t pick who knew the difference between quality and incompetence. Her entire campaign was smoke and mirrors, but no magic.

    Her staffers were so irrational that they thought she should overcome a 23 point polling deficient from a 32% undecided population that leaned toward the front-runner with an “astounding” ground-game.

    Wolf, on the other hand, understood his own strengths. He put up ads early and won mind-share with his personal story and position on a few key issues. He picked good people and got good advice. If he got any bad advice, he seemed to have rejected it.

  16. Chris, if voters are sexist pigs, how did Kathleen Kane win in 2012? She got more votes than Obama!

  17. While I’d say it was Wolf’s $$$ that was the main factor, Jersey Bill is spot on. Numerous PA Democrats are also pro-life, as you head toward the central part of the state.

    Voting for unrestricted abortion is a bit too extreme.

  18. Chris, I’m a woman and have supported many female candidates but you couldn’t have paid me to vote for Allyson Schwartz she’s a bad politician that does not make me sexist pig… sorry.

  19. BGDem,
    Allyson Schwartz would be a very good governor and she deserved the nomination, but the old boys network won, including in her own district. Two qualified women ran, and neither one won. It proves that a lot of voters are sexist pigs.

  20. Why was Allison missing from so many votes in Congress. Where was her concern with the equal pay for equal work vote?

  21. Another factor is no doubt that more people now consider themselves “pro life” than “pro choice.” Schwartz, the darling of the pro-abortion crowd, has always been a one trick pony. That trick, thanks to advanced technology and the Goznell horrors coming to the surface, was no longer enough to mask her radical, inarticulate, unimaginative candidacy.

  22. Many of these comments are brutal – and absolutely spot on. Allyson Schwartz NEVER visited my area of the 13th district, not once, either in a campaign or in between, not even to do a little outreach at non-political community events. Her constituent service varied between non-existent and downright rude. She is a lousy representative, a lousy campaigner, and deserved to get trounced.

  23. Most of the previous comments have fully expressed my thoughts regarding Allyson’s loss. But most only skim around the main reason: Democrats voting in this primary have been foaming at the mouth for a shot at getting rid of Corbett, and being astute and knowledgeable voters, knew that Allyson didn’t stand a chance. In this state, the outright hatred of anything or anyone connected to Philadelphia is shocking.
    Personally, I was thrilled to learn a Democrat (who’s rich!) from Central PA was running.

  24. As a life-long Democrat, pro-choice woman from her own13th District, I will tell you why Schwartz failed. She could not even fake being engaged with her own constituents, let alone build on that base.

    We contacted her LAST YEAR about laying out a clear plan to fix state education funding and her office repeatedly ignored us or shifted us around to other operatives. These operatives seemed to not even be aware of what the top issues to the electorate were, let alone how to articulate them. Her staffing issues on this campaign were notorious so this is, in retrospect, not a surprise.

    Meanwhile, she sent three page funding letters to everyone her home district with only one sentence about education. Why would we give her money when we could not get either her campaign staff or her Congressional staff to answer their phones?
    Again, warning sign of bad management.

    And when she finally realized that she was getting her butt kicked by Wolf, her Hail Mary pass was a poorly thought-out self-aggrandizing ad about healthcare that looked an awful lot like she was only willing to talk about ACA now that the numbers were rising.

    Frankly, she ran like she was owed the seat. (Much like Margolies did, ironically.)

    I wanted to vote for a woman for governor but Allyson Schwartz proved to me that she was NOT that woman.

  25. Chris, I actually live in the middle of the state surrounded by the crazy anti-choicers and I have worked several campaigns here. There aren’t that many that are actually Democrats, Schwartz should have been able to easily overcome that if she had handily won her own turf.

  26. BGDem, it’s true that she ran a bad campaign, but that’s partly because the campaign was intimidated by the anti-choice fanatics. There are more than you know.

  27. Chris, she ran a bad campaign. If she cant hold the voted in her home area that is not the fault of the anti-choice dems in the center of state. If the people in Philly and the Philly burbs really believe there are enough anti-choice dems to swing the election that much it’s the fault of her campaign for not setting them straight. Anti-choice dems might be loud and obnoxious but there aren’t that many of them.

  28. It’s not crazy talk, BGDem. It’s true. The nutcases in the center of the state absolutely hate women and especially pro-choice women in power. The folks in Allyson’s area were aware that she would be targeted by the anti-choice nuts in the general election, so that is one reason they didn’t vote for her in the primary.

  29. Chris, now you’re making sense! But to say it was the anti-choice people in the middle of the state that doomed her is crazy talk! She ran a bad campaign because yes she took the nomination for granted.

  30. BGDem, no, it isn’t flawed logic. She is a great congresswoman who votes the right way on most issues but she took the nomination for granted. That, plus the money that Wolf put in, is what doomed her.

  31. Chris, If she didn’t have strong enough support in her home turf that some “crazy nuts” were able convince them not to vote for her then she wasn’t a very good candidate good candidates can at least carry their own area even in the worst of circumstances… once again your logic is flawed… sorry dude.

  32. BGDem, that isn’t true. The rest of the state has plenty of nuts who were promising to vote against Allyson Schwartz. So, that influenced the vote in her home area.

  33. There are really no excuses to be had here. As someone eluded to earlier, she saw Kane’s success and automatically assumed she would have the same results. She spent hordes of money on staff that seemingly lost her the election, her television ads were confusing offputting. CHIP was a remarkable achievement yet some people have selective memories and don’t remember when it was passed (it may have been nice for a refresher). Allyson’s arrogance rubbed off on her staff and it wasn’t until Wolf held a sizable lead that they began to panic and appear incredibly desperate. If she had lost narrowly to Wolf, we could analyze what could have been done better. Only gathering 18% of the vote in a 4 person primary when you are the presumed favorite (without scandal) is a career ending result.

  34. Chris Martinez, there aren’t enough dems in central PA let alone enough anti-choice ones to have contributed to such a huge loss for Schwartz your logic is severely flawed.

  35. Allyson Schwartz is a passionate fighter for women’s rights, but the anti-abortion nutcases in the central part of Pa. were mad at her for that.

  36. Allyson lost me when she inexplicably trumpeted that in a Schwartz administration, natural gas extraction would be taxed at a lower rate than it is in Texas. Huh? Why is that something she would put on her website? Many in PA are opposed to fracking, unfortunately none of the candidates supported them. All the others waffled with Corbett buzzphrases about protecting the water, but what on earth was Schwartz trying to say?

  37. Or how about the fact that Schwartz is awful and narcissistic?

    Then there was the Aubrey Montgomery controversy…

  38. With all due respect to the Congresswoman, Allyson Schwartz never deserved the title of front runner. There was never a compelling rationale for her candidacy other than perhaps she was bored being in the minority in Congress and saw now opportunity for Democrats to regain the majority in this decade. This campaign mirrored the Obama v. Clinton primary nationally in 2012. Front runner Clinton played it safe waiting to be crowned while the upstart new guy Obama dazzled those who ultimately picked the winner…the voters.

  39. The readers of politicspa deserve better than anonymous columns. Every source of analysis is going to have inherent biases, and without knowledge of who wrote this piece, we can’t take those biases into account. Poor journalism.

  40. Although it was hardly ever mentioned in public, those who paid attention to Allyson while she was in Washington saw her move to right by voting to cut Food Stamps after a growing history of supporting corporations over people. She’d lost a lot of Dems trust by voting like a Republican on economic and national “security” issues. People knew she would not have been able to hide her votes in the general.

  41. So, now, on top of the ridiculous ‘anonymous’ comments written by campaign staffers, we have whole columns being written by people who don’t want their name revealed?

  42. “Schwartz ..who spent much of this year’s Democratic gubernatorial primary being hailed as the frontrunner”

    Should read: hailing herself as the front runner.
    Her “support” was ALWAYS extremely soft and based upon some name recognition, rather that actual appeal.

    “The Schwartz campaign adopted part of this condescending subtext” and ignored that Schwartz was not attractive. LOL.

    “Schwartz also made a series of tactical blunders. Her campaign spent an astounding $1.9 million in 2013 with little to show for it…money that could’ve been better spent when Wolf surged from the back of the pack to the lead.” 100% agree.

    The field team was pretty clueless. Outside the final Gov debate, they had 10 people holding signs: all men. no women. DUH!!!!

  43. Poor Ally-son. She lost because (in no particular order):

    1. She ran a terrible campaign. She thought she’d just waltz into being the Dem candidate for governor.

    2. Tom Wolf was a much better candidate.

    3. She basically sucks at being a Congresswoman – she’s in her like fifth term, with very little to show for it, other than being the first Dem in Congress to speak out against Anthony Weiner’s photo shenanigans. She kept getting reelected in the PA 13th because she’s the Dem incumbant in a seat safe for Dems.

    4. Most Dem primary voters realized that she’s basically unelectable in a Pennsylvania statewide general election. Not just because she’s rabidly anti-gun and militantly pro-abortion, but this woman actually ran an abortion clinic (!) and was the “Five-time winner: Abortion Clinic of the Year” award (!!) (quote removed from her campaign bio around March 2013). I mean, come on!!!

    5. “That’s a man, baby!!” (Threw in this one just to LOL on her absurd claims that she lost because of sexism.

  44. I think McCord is the biggest loser of the primary campaign. While in my opinion there are many reasons why McCord lost, here is my analysis of the McCord campaign…

    The unfavorable ratings revealed in the recent polls leading up to the primary election told a fascinating story, one that I believe will forever haunt the unsuccessful McCord campaign.
    McCord had the highest unfavorable rating than any other candidate, including Schwartz and yet he was still considered relatively unknown to voters especially compared to his opponents. That means, McCord was less known and less liked; an insurmountable disadvantage. Post-election analysis will harshly criticize the McCord campaign strategy, and become a “what not to do” for future candidates, at least in Pennsylvania. McCord failed to introduce himself to the state and he never developed a resonating message other than, “don’t vote for him, vote for me.” The nail in the coffin for McCord was unapologetically and viciously going negative, even when electeds, party leaders and organizations like Fact Check called him out on it; McCord continued to engage in what many consider divisive and dirty politics. His racially charged attack ads were baseless and unfounded, not to mention declared false by Fact Check; McCord’s ad was similar to when Republicans went after Obama with the same guilt-by-association style attacks regarding his association with Jeremiah Wright. McCord came off as pompous and arrogant during the debates; at times even erratic and uncontrolled; not like someone who can get things done or even someone you’d want to have a beer with. Ultimately he didn’t connect and simply wasn’t liked by Pennsylvanians. In the last week of the campaign McCord’s number were headed in the wrong direction. Democrats responded with their votes, or in this case, lack thereof for McCord. I think McCord is the biggest loser of the primary campaign; having severely tarnished his image, as well as seriously damaged his ability to ever seek statewide office in the future.

  45. Having once been called by Schwartz about running for Congress, only to realize well into the conversation that she was mistaken as to which district I resided in, I was pleased to see this establishment figure fall. Tellingly, she had chosen a rich, establishment Democrat to run for a new, safely-drawn Democratic seat in the district I actually resided in; she wanted me to take on a Republican incumbent holding a seat the establishment Democrat had lost two years prior. Like her, he has voted with Wall Street every chance he’s gotten in his first term.

  46. This article is spot on. Schwartz squandered a perfect opportunity. She spent so much money on extraneous staff and consultants at the end of 2013 that it put her at a disadvantage when it came to getting up on television. I had no problem with her waiting to get up on T.V. once the campaign made that decision, but he ads she released were ineffective and any media from that point out was just desperation to attack Wolf. I still like Allyson but she made some poor tactical decisions and her campaign staff really blew it for her.

  47. Now analyze for us what happened to Rob McCord’s campaign that took him from being the favorite of the party leadership to finishing so poorly.

  48. completely ignores what really got Kathleen Kane elected. She misled voters into thinking that she would prosecute Tom Corbett if he slow-walked the very successful Sandusky prosecution. Such a prosecution is not even possible, but she made her election a referendum on the Governor.

  • Who are you voting for in the PA Supreme Court race?

    • Dan McCaffery (61%)
    • Carolyn Carluccio (37%)
    • Still undecided (2%)

    Total Voters: 344

    Loading ... Loading ...
Continue to Browser


To install tap and choose
Add to Home Screen