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Politically Uncorrected: What Matters in 2014

PA-Governor-Mansion2Pennsylvania stands at the edge of an historical moment. For the first time in modern state history, a large-field of competitive gubernatorial candidates awaits an impending spring primary battle that will allow one of them to take on an incumbent governor next fall.

History making? Certainly. But otherwise, a gubernatorial primary like most others. The Democratic candidates running against incumbent Tom Corbett will face the same strategic factors candidates do in all competitive primaries.  Collectively, these five factors will determine what really matters in the May primary.

  • Money, lots of it – Pennsylvania is a quintessential electronic media state.  Social media, notwithstanding, no statewide presence can be achieved without raising prodigious amounts of cash. Governor Ed Rendell raised in total $42 million in 2002 and another $30 million for his reelection in 2006. Corbett spent $24 million in his initial election in 2010, while his losing opponent Dan Onorato spent $20 million. For the Democratic primary in 2014, the admission fee is minimally $5 million, and the winner will spend $10 million or more. Politics these days is many things – but one thing it is not, is cheap.
  • Political Geography – Geography, not demographics, has been destiny for many statewide elections in modern times.  Until recently, the geography that mattered was western Pennsylvania whose voters tended to vote disproportionately for western candidates.  More recently, the geography that matters has been growing southeastern Pennsylvania voters migrating from the Republican to the Democratic Party. But in the 2014 Democratic primary none of eight announced candidates hail from the western part of the state. Inevitably, then, the Democratic nominee will be a southeasterner running against a westerner, incumbent Tom Corbett, setting up a classic east versus west struggle.
  • Absence of Issues – The harmony among top-tier Democratic candidates on issues is striking. They probably agree on 85-90 percent of the issues likely to dominate the campaign. Mostly culturally liberal on fiscal matters, they advocate an aggressive economic development and job creation program, including extending long-term unemployment benefits.  On other policies, they make increased education funding a core issue, agree on strengthening environmental policies, but generally support fracking in the natural gas industry. Amid this universe of unanimity the contending candidates must somehow find a way to make salient distinctions between and among themselves. Ironically, this agreement on issues may produce a campaign less about issues and more about the personal traits and backgrounds of the candidates.
  • The Risks of Negative Advertising – With issue differences scarce, the personalities of the candidates will loom large. Voters will be looking for someone who looks and sounds “gubernatorial.” Candidate experience will count as voters decide if they want someone with a business background, legislative experience, private sector background, etc.  Most essential will be how candidates demonstrate the leadership skills necessary to lead the state during difficult times. The lack of issue differences will make ad hominemattacks on opponents both more likely and more dangerous. A nasty, negative and fractious Democratic primary could be a fatal blow to the party’s hopes to unseat incumbent Corbett in November.
  • Gender Politics – The dearth of female state officeholders proved a huge plus for Attorney General Kathleen Kane in her impressive 2012 victory. Pennsylvanians at long last seem ready to support women candidates in statewide races. Indeed, in the 2014 Democratic primary, it’s widely expected that gender will play a large role, with perhaps three women candidates on the ballot, two of them considered top-tier candidates by most.  How increased electoral support for women plays out is as crucial as it is difficult to forecast. On the one hand, the female vote is likely to be large. Conversely, multiple women candidates might divide much of it. The irony is palpable. For years, potential women candidates didn’t run because it seemed they couldn’t win; now that Kane has shown they can win, more women are running – and potentially could lose because of it.
  • The Rookie Factor – The intangible that may trump everything else is a piece of pedestrian politics that probably has won more statewide races than any other – the skills and organizational experience that come from running in earlier campaigns. Pennsylvania is a huge, diverse and complex state not noted for being kind to rookie candidates for governor. Most successful gubernatorial candidates have run (and lost) once, twice or more times at many levels. Bob Casey Sr. actually won the governorship on his fourth effort, Tom Ridge had long served in Congress and Ed Rendell had won four elections in Philadelphia before winning the governorship. The experience of running seems to provide an edge to most candidates.  Of the candidates, running this year Rob McCord has run twice statewide and Allyson Schwartz once.  Although some of the other candidates have run for office, none has run statewide campaigns.

Finally, there are some wild cards in play of uncertain impact. The most important of these may be the influence of union and party endorsements. In modern politics, endorsements are often disregarded by voters and devalued by campaigns. Nevertheless, they can still matter and could play a large role in this race with its large number of candidates. In a relatively low turnout primary, endorsements could in fact win it all.

5 Responses

  1. Former Lower Merion Constable Eric Bradway is running for Governor on The Democratic Ticket

  2. Pa Indy is right! What kind of people are we anyhow? Each year, Dan Onorato gave away tens of millions as Allegheny County executive and Ed Rendell handed out hundreds of millions as Philadelphia mayor to lawyers, construction firms, investment banks, insurance companies and hospitals. Now, check who gave them their campaign dough. Corbett did not prosecute many donors as AG but he did make promises. Now look who got contracts and tax breaks and bond deals and compare that to the donor list. These guys are all corrupt and only an Edmond Burke can save our Commonwealth.

  3. Paindy-
    You are completely off topic (as usual).

    PoliticsPA – can you just create a thread called: “Corbett vs PA Indy”

    Terry-
    Good analysis. I figured Rendell spent a lot, but I didn’t realize it was that much.

    The union endorsements don’t matter unless the unions back them up with boots on the ground and people on the phones.

  4. yeah i remember when these yahoos said Eugene DePasquale was going to lose the auditor general race. they’re really sharp like a butter knife.

  5. The Great Truth Teller Signor Ferrari of Casablancapa.com posted late last week his take on the Kane investigation of Corbett. If you haven’t read Ferrari’s post, this one especially is worth reading. Here is an excerpt: It’s still stunning that Corbett’s September 2008 announcement of a “moratorium” on additional charges in the legislative investigation wasn’t met with incredulous howls of mockery.

    In essence, what Corbett had announced was that weeks before Election Day, he was happy to stage a dog-and-pony show of a hearing accusing Democrats (of 272 counts which resulted in acquittals or were dropped), but he didn’t want to influence that same election by charging any Republicans with wrongdoing. Bumsted still thinks it is a dandy policy to suppress negative information about GOP candidates until after Election Day, suggesting “Here’s a novel idea: Kane could publicly announce the report [on the Sandusky case] won’t be released until Nov. 5 regardless of when it’s completed.”

    What made Corbett’s 2008 “moratorium” completely ludicrous – as any reporter who had bothered to read the presentment could’ve told us – was that Corbett was nowhere near prepared to indict a Republican by Election Day 2008. When he announced his “moratorium,” Corbett had not even begun to investigate House Republicans in earnest. It was a month after that announcement that he convened hearings to force House Republicans to comply with subpoenas that the caucus had ignored, with impunity, for a full year.

    So: in 2008, Corbett announced that he didn’t want to politicize an investigation that he’d already irredeemably politicized by announcing charges in an investigation that he hadn’t even begun. Six years later, it’s Kane, who stands a chance of exposing how Corbett’s bungled political maneuvering delayed capture of child rapist for nearly three years, who’s accused of playing politics.

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