By John Finnerty
CNHI Harrisburg Bureau
Well over a year before the 2014 general election, a crowded field of would-be challengers has stepped forward to try to win the Democratic nomination to run against Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.
There are six stated candidates seeking the Democratic nomination at a seventh candidate is expected to throw his hat into the ring in the fall.
Only one, Treasurer Rob McCord has won statewide election and he’s the candidate who has been carefully perched on the fence, telling supporters he will announce his bid for governor later this year.
No front-runner, yet? No worries, say analysts.
The sooner a true front-runner emerges, the sooner it allows the governor’s campaign to refine its message and strategy, said Tom Baldino, a political science professor at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre.
And the fact that so many candidates have come forward demonstrates how beatable Corbett appears, said Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster. National commentators have described Corbett as the incumbent governor most likely to lose in 2014.
Most of time, when an incumbent governor is seeking re-election, the opposing party has to scramble to find a sacrificial lamb to run, Madonna said.
Already, the Democratic candidates could be grouped into tiers of public awareness, Madonna said. The top-tier pair would be U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz and McCord. A second-tier of candidates who could make a credible run would be Katie McGinty and John Hanger, both former heads of the Department of Environmental Protection, and Tom Wolf, a businessman who had pledged that he will spend $10 million of his own money on the campaign.
Marci Radcliffe, vice chair of the Mercer County Democratic committee, said early polls have shown that Schwartz matches up well against Corbett.
“A Quinnipiac poll last month found Schwartz leading Corbett by 13 points, 47 percent to 34 percent,” Radcliffe said. “Rep. Schwartz is very capable of winning the gubernatorial race and very capable to handle the responsibility of being Pennsylvania’s first female governor.”
Schwartz has proven she can raise the money needed and in Congress she has fought for veterans and health care reform, Radcliffe said.
Baldino said that Schwartz, a former manager of an abortion clinic, may be too liberal to win statewide though. That has many of the Democratic faithful waiting for McCord to begin campaigning.
Rick Thomas, chairman of the Union County Democratic committee, said McCord has proven he can win statewide.
“I need to be careful in how I phrase my opinion, lest it come off sounding as if it’s an endorsement by the county committee,” Thomas said. “(But) I think McCord may be the best choice.”
There is plenty of time for even a relatively unknown candidate to emerge and win the election. Madonna pointed to the election of Republican Tom Ridge, who was little-known outside northwestern Pennsylvania, when he launched his successful bid for governor. Ridge served as governor from 1995 to 2001.
Finnerty reports from Harrisburg for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.’s Pennsylvania newspapers, including The Meadville Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.