Frontrunner Stumbles Out of the Gate

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If you ask almost anybody in D.C. about Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race, you’ll likely hear that Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz will be the next governor of the Keystone State. Schwartz, a high-profile state legislator and congresswoman for over 20 years, is polling at 18% with a whopping 63% of Democrats still undecided. Recently, she picked up some key endorsements, including the Pennsylvania Association of Staff Nurses and Allied Professionals, United Steelworkers Local 10-1, Boilermakers Local 13, and EMILY’s list. But outside of endorsements, the Schwartz campaign is stumbling out of the gate.

When a candidate seeks to climb to the next rung on the political ladder, there are going to be growing pains and early errors. Even though Schwartz is perhaps the most politically-savvy of the gubernatorial candidates thus far in the race, her campaign is no exception to this rule.

Back in March, her entrance into the race was blemished by an email sent from her Chief of Staff to fellow-candidate Rob McCord’s spokesman, Mark Nevins. The email threatened to have the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee blacklist Nevins’ consulting firm, and copied four top DCCC officials on the email. Politico eventually got hold of the emails, partially published them, and cemented a sour start for Schwartz.

Recent events show that the campaign still isn’t firing on all cylinders.

After party officials at Democratic State Committee voted in favor of a resolution for a moratorium on fracking, the gubernatorial candidates across the state knew right away that they would be getting press calls about their position on the resolution. Robert Vickers at The Patriot News reported that Schwartz, along with Tom Wolf, “responded to statement requests on the 115-81 state committee vote, but would not be drawn on the merits of the resolution.”

Vickers said that a “spokeswoman for Schwartz deflected the inquiry to criticize Corbett:”

Pennsylvania wouldn’t have a debate about a natural-gas extraction moratorium if we had a governor who had a vision to ensure that Pennsylvania leads in natural gas, has a commitment for doing it safely and responsibly, and a strategy for keeping the energy right here in Pennsylvania where it can lower energy costs, attract new manufacturing, and create jobs for Pennsylvanians.

But hours later, the Schwartz campaign clarified their remarks, saying “Allyson Schwartz believes calling for a moratorium on natural gas extraction is misguided.”

When a campaign adds a follow-up statement after a news article publishes, it generally means that their original message was flubbed in some way. In this case, the Schwartz campaign had close to a week to get their policy position down on the moratorium, but equivocated between deflection and revision. If you are aware of something high-profile at State Committee, you’d better be ready for a response the very next day.

Then there’s the June 8 interview where Congresswoman Schwartz referred to herself as “the highest-ranking woman elected official in Pennsylvania.” But, as Thomas Fitzgerald at the Inquirer pointed out, “that high ground belongs to Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who was elected statewide last year with more than 3 million votes.” Kane is said to have been somewhat upset by the remark.

Schwartz is correct in her general charge that Pennsylvania’s female representation is woefully inadequate at every level. But it will be crucial for Schwartz to secure Kane’s support now that Schwartz is stepping into the statewide arena. It’s safe to say that a “mea culpa” phone call was made after the misstep.

Finally, and most importantly, Team Schwartz has yet to show how they will fight back against cynical conservative attacks on her tenure as director of a reproductive health clinic. Even fellow-candidate John Hanger recently brought up his concerns about this line of Republican attack, saying that because Schwartz “ran a reproductive health clinic that did provide abortion services,” the GOP would use that to mobilize their conservative base and make gains with Reagan Democrats.

One of the most beneficial aspects of a crowded primary election is working out how you will respond to attacks during the general election. Schwartz missed an opportunity to fight back when The Weekly Standard recently tried to tie Schwartz to Kermit Gosnell, the abortionist convicted of 3 counts of murder. From The Weekly Standard:

A Planned Parenthood official denies that Blackwell [the clinic Schwartz directed] ever referred mothers seeking abortions to take the 10-minute drive across town to Gosnell’s clinic, though she did not explain how she knew this. “We have never referred to Gosnell,” said the official in an email to THE WEEKLY STANDARD. Could she confirm that going all the way back to 1972, the year Gosnell first opened his clinic? The official did not immediately respond.

Pro-life groups are not going to stop attacking Congresswoman Schwartz on this issue. Schwartz’s campaign team needs to nip this line of attack in the bud if Schwartz wants to beat Governor Corbett. We need to know how she is going to respond, and how she is going to take this attack out of Corbett’s conservative toolbox.

Already there is evidence that progressive leaders in the state aren’t confident in Schwartz’s campaign thus far. As reported by PoliticsPA, Progressive Caucus Chair Bruce Slater said the following about Schwartz at last week’s Pennsylvania Democratic State Central Committee:

I’m not certain Allyson Schwartz has what it takes to win a statewide race, not like these guys who already hold statewide office. I am interested in hearing more of what Tom Wolf has to say.

Fortunately, Congresswoman Schwartz and her team have lots of time to right the ship. Stumbles are to be expected in any campaign, especially early on. But until the campaign gets it completely together, it’s not safe to maintain the impression that Schwartz is the inevitable candidate. The field is wide open.

About Jake Sternberger

Jake Sternberger is a recovering/relapsing political professional who has been a contributor to Keystone Politics since 2011. Sternberger covers campaigns and elections for KP, drawing from his experience working on local, county, congressional, and statewide PA races doing field, oppo, comms, and as CM. He is currently a law student. Email: jakes@keystonepolitics.com Twitter: @JakeSternberger
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5 Responses to Frontrunner Stumbles Out of the Gate

  1. Already there is evidence that progressive leaders in the state aren’t confident in Schwartz’s campaign thus far.

    This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who calls themselves a political junkie. Schwartz is a corporate tool(aka New Dem). Which means she’s going to make a lot of mistakes like you document above. They are afraid of taking a stand for anything besides the rich people and corporations she/they really represent.

  2. Pam says:

    McCord is our best chance to toss out Corbett and get a Democrat into the Governor’s Office. He has proven himself as fiscally competent – a usual attack of Republicans on Democrats – and he doesn’t have a long voting record or ties to a women’s health clinic like Schwartz has hanging over her.

    • … and he doesn’t have a long voting record or ties to a women’s health clinic like Schwartz has hanging over her.

      Does that really matter? Why should the Democratic candidate run away from what they believe(as long as they aren’t corporate tools)? I think Jake’s point is that it’s political malpractice not to have ready responses to what you know will be the GOP’s line(s) of attack.

  3. Pingback: 6/27 Morning Buzz | PoliticsPA

  4. Monty Timmerman says:

    an entertaining read. Allyson Schwartz may have “stumbled” but its early in the game. At least she is getting name recognition with the average voter. The others, I think, are known only to the political elite, definitely not a candidate we need. But actually writing to say I find the use of “Reagan Democrats” amusing. Ronald Reagan left office in 1989. I’d assume the voters he appealed to are for the most, dead. Ask someone under 40 and I doubt they even know anything about the Reagan years.