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Politically Uncorrected: Handicapping Pennsylvania’s 2014 Gubernatorial Field

Pennsylvanians might reasonably expect that the political world would take a breather from campaigns following almost two years of non-stop presidential campaigning. After running nationally more than one million commercials and spending an estimated six billion dollars, everyone should be ready for a rest.

Silly you!

In fact, the next political campaign is already underway—it started the day after the presidential election. We speak, of course, of the already frenzied maneuvering for position in the Keystone state’s upcoming 2014 gubernatorial election. For the first time in modern times, an incumbent governor is all but certain to face serious opposition for re-election to a second term. Some of it might come from his Republican party; more of it will likely come from opposition Democrats.

Without further ado, these are the names most likely to surface in the next several weeks and months as Pennsylvania prepares to elect its next governor.


  • Tom Corbett – Corbett enters the race as the weakest incumbent for reelection since 1970 when governors became eligible to run for a second term. His job performance numbers in many recent polls are in the mid 30’s and his budget cuts have drawn heavy fire from both Democrats and Republicans.  Moreover, some blame his political leadership for the Republican Party’s poor statewide showing in November’s election.  Compounding the governor’s problems is the debate over his handling of the notorious Sandusky investigation while he served as attorney general.  The incoming attorney general has promised a thorough review of that case. Yet, for all this trouble, Corbett still is arguably the favorite in 2014.  As incumbent, he commands enormous organizational, financial and political resources to support his reelection.   In addition, Pennsylvanians seem to prefer electing governors from the party out of power in Washington.
  • Corbett’s Possible Opponents – The GOP’s prospect of losing control of the governorship raises the possibility incumbent Corbett will draw a primary opponent.  The question is who might actually do it. After November’s election, there are no Republican statewide office holders available to launch a possible challenge. Consequently, the most likely Corbett opponents would be state lawmakers, including perhaps the Majority Leader of the state House, Mike Turzai or the Majority Leader of the state Senate, Dominic Pleggi or chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Jake Corman.  But legislative gubernatorial candidacies historically have been problematic even in open seat races.
  • Outside possibilities – Other GOP possibilities are sparse. No incumbent Republican congressman is likely to challenge Corbett and the big city mayors are Democrats. One outside possibility is the emergence of an independently wealthy “outside” challenger as we have just seen in the U.S. senate race.  But more likely, Corbett gets a “pass” free from serious opposition and an unobstructed path to renomination.


Moving from possible Republicans to possible Democrats, the list grows exponentially. Not a few Republicans worry that Corbett could be defeated, but far more than a few Democrats are certain of it.  At least 12 Democrats are potential Corbett opponents, and the number could grow. Here, in no particular order, are those now believed to be among the strongest contenders.

  • Ed Rendell, former governor, current pundit and sports commentator.  Few doubt that Rendell would be a formidable opponent in 2014, but he has consistently ruled himself out.
  • Rob McCord, incumbent state treasurer, prolific fund raiser, skilled campaigner and possibly the favorite of the Democrat establishment. His largest handicap now is probably lack of statewide name recognition.
  • Kathleen Kane, newly elected attorney general, proven campaigner, one of the more exciting political figures to emerge on the state scene in many years. Her inexperience in state politics might be her biggest challenge, and she would be in office only a few months before announcing.
  • Former congressman Joe Sestak, darling of state progressives, an impressive, impassioned campaigner and proven fund raiser. Sestak’s U.S. Senate loss in 2010 may hurt him, but he brings considerable assets to the race.
  • U. S Senator Bob Casey, the son of a popular two term governor, now twice elected to the U S Senate, and a grass roots favorite among rank and file Democrats. Casey seems highly unlikely to run. If he did run, however, he would prove difficult to defeat.
  • Josh Shapiro, current chair of the Montgomery County commissioners, draws high marks because of his leadership in the state’s third largest county. He is widely recognized as a future statewide candidate, but his youth probably means he waits a few years more.

To this “A” list of potential Democrats can be added additional prospective candidates either less likely to run or somewhat less likely to win. Among this group is Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, Philadelphia businessman Tom Knox, state Senator Daylin Leach, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, Auditor General elect Eugene DePasquale and former gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato.

This is the preliminary lineup for both parties. Two years is several lifetimes in politics and much can change between now and November 2014. What’s unlikely to change, however, is that Pennsylvania is poised  to have its most spirited gubernatorial reelection campaign in more than half a century.

Madonna is Professor of Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, and Young is a former Professor of Politics and Public Affairs at Penn State University and Managing Partner of Michael Young Strategic Research.

24 Responses

  1. I know and endorse former DEP Secretary John Hanger for PA Governor.

    He noted he’d stay out if either Rendell or U.S. Senator Bob Casey decided to get in the race – but said he’s spoken to both and doesn’t think either will run.

    Hanger’s position on fracking seems very close to mine, and most realistic: If we have to have it (and I don’t see a plausible transition from fossil fuels to renewables without it), we need to protect our citizens and environment, and capitalize on Marcellus shale to the benefit of all. He criticizes the Governor for not doing enough to do the latter: “Despite a falling national unemployment rate and a global energy bonanza, Tom Corbett produced rising unemployment. It’s jaw-dropping,” Hanger said.

    This seems very close also to Rep. Eugene DePasquale’s, who I worked hard to get in as Auditor General: Eugene will “support the growth of the natural gas industry, but more importantly, to ensure that communities throughout Pennsylvania have the tools necessary to ensure safe and abundant natural resources.”

    Hanger has long been a tireless advocate for renewable energy. I am confident that will continue.

    I don’t see a gubernatorial candidate rigidly opposed to fracking winning PA.

  2. @papundent, you are a moron. Gene Stilp got destroyed in his “race” for Congress. He is a fool and honestly is very creepy.

  3. Denny,

    Jack is rumored to be mulling a run for Mayor of Pittsburgh in the spring. Were he to enter and lose that contest, though, he still should have enough time to jump into the 2014 gubernatorial race.

  4. I think Max Myers could have an outside shot with his message of community and government reform on its most basic levels.

  5. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned: Mr. McCord’s private-sector experience. He’s a Wharton MBA and proven job-creator.

  6. Don’t forget Montco Commissioner and former DA Bruce Castor who sniffed out the corruption in the previous commissioners administration, and went toe to toe with Corbett in the AG primary in ’04. He’s still around, again would crush Corbett in a primary among SE voters, would have lots to say with credibility about Corbett and Sandusky, and is about as anti-establishment as you can get in the GOP. I’m sure he’s eyeing the situation closely.

  7. PA Pundit-
    1) Sestak lives in Virginia, not Pennsylvania. If Sestak runs, this will be an issue that he won’t be able to dodge any longer. (While he was running for Senate in 2010, he got a building permit from Alexandria, VA to do some expansions on his house there).

    2) If Sestak runs for Governor, he may have to face an FEC investigation over the money he’s been spending from his Senate campaign account the past two years. (especially since it was reported in Jan 2011, that his staff was overheard discussing that Sestak was using his 67 county defeat-tour as a cover for a run for Governor). Using Federal campaign funds for a state race is a big no-no.

    3) He screwed over a lot of Dems around the state with his refusal to participate in coordinated campaign and abandoned the down-ticket candidates.

    I was at a party last week with about 20 committee people in Montgomery county. It was my first time meeting them, and only one person liked Sestak. I didn’t have to convince her against him, because the other people there had their own stories. Zero out of twenty in a progressive Democratic committee is not a good “base”.

  8. I’m leaning toward Sestak as the best option. Whomever decides to run better start the campaign soon and recruit good staff.
    I will say this… You can’t run a successful campaign today without a strong social media presence.
    That being said, anyone serious should go after the wizard behind the Gene Stilp campaign. Considering he was outspent by over a million bucks and had no party support, he still got 42% of the vote. That’s pretty damn impressive.
    If he had even a little money, things would be different.
    Not sure what his guy is doing now, but he’s a damn genios. If I’m not mistaken, Politics PA gave Stilp the “Best social media” award.

    Hopefully Sestak picks him up. i think he’s the best candidate to win against Corbett, but he needs to start now and recruit well.

  9. McCord is clearly the strongest Dem. Sestak just seems “off” sometimes. As to the person who said McCord is boring, I think his charisma would far outmatch Corbett who is the least charismatic politician I have ever seen.

  10. First of all we are in trouble because of that idiot Rendell, why would we want him back to give the entire state away to unions and welfare!?

    If Kane goes after Corbett she better be going after Critz and Casey!

    Most of the democrats mentioned have no proven experience to run a county let alone a state.

    There are some really great state senators and state reps out of Western PA that would be so much better and aren’t just “politicians.”

  11. Terry is merely whetting our appetite without diving into the meaty analysis.

    Though it was not his goal here, Terry may consider that:

    – MontCo chair Marcel Groen will not have McCord, Schwartz, and Shapiro compete in a primary. Only one will emerge, and it will be McCord. Shapiro is highly regarded but needs to establish his record first, and he has a young family nearby.

    – Kathleen Kane: too soon and needs to establish her record of governing and handling the Sandusky issue, not to mention whatever lurks in the Rs AG office.

    – Casey: potential to obtain leadership in the Senate, being in a ‘safe seat.’ Governor is his father’s legacy, so he may want to craft his own in the Senate.

    ALSO, the primary and general election will be all about ‘bases’, with MontCo, DelCo, and Bucks being the major Democratic bases in the Governor’s Mansion-clinching southeast. The candidates need to be from this area. McCord has his base in MontCo. and Sestak and DelCo. If you add a Bucks County candidate, it could get really interesting if they are organized and can develop a message. If you want a dark horse candidate from the area, I seriously think Robin Wiessmann can fit the profile due to the ‘base’ argument and being from Bucks.

    Tom Wolf is also an interesting dark horse because he is of the “Rendell wing,” is a business-owner, and from a conservative area. He identifies with the state’s majority demographic. But, it remains to be seen if he can play well in Phila and Pittsburgh.

  12. Great article! Dr. Madonna is one of the most respectable political commentators in the state.

    Here is the problem with his list though:

    Rendell- past his prime. A great guy but might be too old for another run. He was the one who put the stimulus money into education which Corbett had to cut. It is a tough issue to side step running against Corbett.

    Kane- just elected but future is bright. Maybe our first female gov. ….. 10 years from now!

    Casey- has a great Senate seat and not a great campaigner. Sen. Casey- please do not run!! You don’t have the charisma to win this race.

    McCord- this guy has the inside track. He is quietly being backed by the “insiders”. The only problem is that he is boring and most people couldn’t pick him out of a line up. McCord is an empty suit.

    Sestak- has already started campaigning and having rallies for state house candidates. Has been all over the state already while no one else has. Sestak is intense and treats his staffers rough but I want to send a fighter to Harrisburg. He has the fight so stand up to the Republicans. Where Casey and McCord don’t!

    Shapiro- Who?

  13. Kathleen Kane is onto something and should lead by example.

    As Attorney General, Tom Corbett received over $647,000 in campaign contributions from members of the Second Mile Foundation, while only assigning one investigator to the case.

    Meanwhile, at the same time, he assigned 14 investigators to Bill Deweese, who spent more than 5 years trying to get him.

    It is difficult to believe these campaign contributions did not improperly influence his decision to not file charges against Jerry Sandusky.

    The state police trooper who initially handled the Clinton County case against Jerry Sandusky believed there was enough evidence from a teenage boy — now known as Victim One– to charge Sandusky with indecent assault.

  14. Kane already said during her debate with Freed that she would not run for another office until she completed her term as Attorney General.

  15. Also, while the usual names are up there, here are 2 dark horse names to consider…

    Patrick Casey and….

    very famous name PA name that may have a real personal ax to grind with Guv Corporate

    Jay Paterno

  16. Kane needs to prove herself as Atty Gen which she should be able to do. She also has some work to do looking into the Corbett / Sandusky saga. If her star continues to glow – LOOK OUT PAT TOOMEY in 2016!

    As for Rendell, I thought he could only serve 2 terms a Gov. Is there an out that you can come back and serve additional terms as long as it is only 2 consectutive?

  17. I think Metcalfe won’t take another run at statewide office. As for Sam Rohrer… he needs to honestly just stay out of politics. He will never win statewide office, so his running is at best just a to get himself in the spotlight for a few months.

    Are we forgetting the pay raise… and the pension hikes… and all of the other wonderful things the “real conservative” did during his time as a legislator?

    I’m betting it’s going to be Rob McCord.

  18. On Rob McCord: “His largest handicap now is probably lack of statewide name recognition.”

    But, the counter argument is that Corbett’s largest handicap IS his statewide name recognition. 🙂

  19. Metcalfe seems to be a bit out there, from what I’ve read.

    I’m don’t think Corbett will see serious opposition from within his own party. If anyone would challenge him, Corbett’s candidacy in the fall would be doomed. The challenger, rightly or not, would be blamed and shunned by the party establishment.

  20. On GOP side for potential Primary challengers, I think you might add Sam Rohrer and possibly Daryl Metcalfe.

  21. With petitions to be signed in February/ March 2014, and a state committee endorsement meeting in early February, we will know well before “2 years” who will run as a Democrat.

    The drums are already being beaten.

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