Pennsylvania’s first female governor? Rep. Schwartz may make history

Updated
Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa. speaks after a round table discussion with Vice President Joe Biden on gun control, Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, at Girard College in Philadelphia.
Rep. Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa. speaks after a round table discussion with Vice President Joe Biden on gun control, Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, at Girard College in Philadelphia.
Matt Rourke/AP Photo

Pennsylvania voters made history last year when they elected Kathleen Kane, the first woman and the first Democratic attorney general since the post became an elected position in 1980.

Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-PA) is now looking to make history twice over in 2014 as she eyes a run for governor, which would make her the first woman in the state’s history to hold the seat. While she hasn’t officially declared her candidacy, all signs are increasingly pointing to “go” for the sole female member of Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation. Schwartz’s chief of staff Rachel Magnuson, told local media outlets earlier this month that the congresswoman representing a suburban Philly district is  ”seriously” considering running for the state’s highest office.

Politicos say Schwartz is one of just a handful of candidates who have the credibility to mount a serious challenge to incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. In February, the Democratic Governor’s Association released a poll showing her leading Corbett by 8% in a hypothetical match up.

Former Pennsylvania Congresswoman Marjorie Margolies, who represented parts of Schwartz’s district in the 1990’s, is eager to see a woman fill one of the Pennsylvania’s top jobs. “Kathleen Kane and Catherine Baker Knoll proved that women can run just as well as men in Pennsylvania,” Margolies said.  “I want more women at the table.”

Lynn Yeakel, the founder and co-chair of Vision 2020, a national initiative for women’s social and economic equality, based at Drexel University, was the last female statewide nominee in Pennsylvania to run at the national level, and only the second woman in Pennsylvania’s history to become the nominee for the U.S. Senate.  In 1992 she came up short in her challenge to incumbent U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter. “If anyone can do this, Allyson can,” Yeakel said.  “She’s a very tough campaigner.”

Yeakel and Schwartz have been friends since the 1970’s when they founded Women’s Way, a non-profit dedicated to advocacy for women. She believes the deck is stacked against women, especially in a state like Pennsylvania (with particularly few women at the Senate and gubernatorial level) – where an entrenched power structure controls recruitment. Yeakel added that many women fear the process, and there is a lack of role models at the highest levels in the state to inspire women candidates to run.

Team Schwartz declined an on-the-record-interview.

Were she to win, Schwartz would also be the first candidate to defeat a sitting governor since the state constitution was changed in 1968 to allow incumbents to seek a second consecutive term. Since 1971, when Milton Shapp was elected to the state’s top job, no governor of Pennsylvania has been defeated for re-election.

“Allyson is a strong leader, a good communicator, with an excellent record in Congress,” said former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, who is still waiting to see what the field looks like before he publicly endorses a candidate. “She has a nice following, she’s a terrific worker, and most importantly she has money in the bank,” the Democrat added. “You need at least $6 million to compete in a primary in Pennsylvania and  $4 million [of the $6 million]  needs to go on TV,” said Rendell.  “Allyson is already almost there,” he said.

Schwartz’s calculation might prove to be wise: if there was ever a time to upend an incumbent governor in Pennsylvania, 2014 might be it. Gov.  Corbett remains one of the most unpopular sitting governors in the country.  According to a Franklin and Marshall poll that came out last month, Corbett’s approval numbers were the lowest scored in the history of the poll.

It’s unclear how the Penn State University sexual abuse scandal will play out in next year’s governor’s race. Some say Corbett delayed bringing charges against Jerry Sandusky’s actions at Penn State to avoid offending his Penn State alumni donor base–a large constituency in Pennsylvania. Attorney General Kathleen Kane pledged during her campaign in 2012 to investigate why it took the Attorney General’s office (lead by Corbett) three years to files charges.  She appointed a highly respected former Federal prosecutor to investigate the governor’s actions as Attorney General. However the verdict falls on Corbett’s handling of Sandusky, Democrats appear likely to turn this into a campaign issue.

Rendell, however, doesn’t believe running against Corbett will be a cake walk. “He’s not going to be easy to beat,” Rendell said. “He’ll have $30 million, no primary, and he’s going to run a ferocious campaign.”

Schwartz is one of the few potential candidates eying the state’s top job who comes close to matching Corbett dollar for dollar. Corbett announced in February that he ended 2012 with about $3.5 million. She has about $3 million in her Congressional account that could be transferred to a state political committee, which she announced last week she intends to do in the next few weeks.

She also announced that she will step down from her post as chief fundraiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which has expanded her fundraising base and contacts nationally, an advantage she possesses over fellow Democrats who are considering jumping in the primary.

“Allyson will raise close to $35 million for this race,” said one source close to the southeast Penn. Democrat. “The goal is to have $10 million cash on hand before the end of the year.”

State Treasurer Robb McCord, who has won two decisive statewide races and is also considered to be an able fundraiser, and Schwartz’s former House colleague and 2010 Democratic Senate nominee, former Congressman Joe Sestak, are both said to also be considering the race. Some prominent Pennsylvania Democrats, who would not go on the record, have doubts about a Schwartz candidacy. “Tom Corbett is foaming at the mouth to run against Allyson Schwartz,” said one of the Democrats who asked for anonymity.  “She may win a primary but she will run terribly statewide,” they said.  The same prominent Pennsylvania Democrat also said that “McCord is the black belt of political fundraising and will match, if not exceed, Schwartz in fundraising.”

Geography also may be a challenge for Schwartz, who represents the Philadelphia suburbs.  Aside from  Rendell, Pennsylvania has not elected a candidate for governor from Philadelphia since 1910 and from Montgomery County (where Schwartz is from) since Milton Shapp in 1970.

“She’ll need to use some of the money she has to raise her name ID outside of her district–in Scranton, Allentown, Pittsburgh, and Erie” said Rendell.  “She has a task ahead of her but she’s a great worker,” he insisted.

Pennsylvania has a history of voting Democratic in presidential years, but leans slightly in favor of the Republicans when it comes to mid-term years. President Obama received 3.3 million votes in 2008.  But just two years later in a historic sweep for the GOP, the Keystone State elected Corbett as governor and GOPer Pat Toomey to the U.S. Senate. While nearly 6 million votes were cast in 2008 and 2012, the turnout was drastically different in 2010. That year about 2 million fewer voters showed up to cast a ballot, showing how difficult it is to excite voters in non-presidential years.

The election in 2014 remains anyone’s game in a very purple state like Pennsylvania. Democrats have Pennsylvania political history leaning against them–but also have a chance to change history. Said one source close to Schwartz’s organization,  “The palpable excitement of electing the first woman governor is already inspiring the energy needed to turn out voters in a non-presidential year.”

Pennsylvania's first female governor? Rep. Schwartz may make history

Updated