It's predicted to be one of the hottest contests in the 2014 midterms elections. Aside from Florida Governor Rick Scott, there is no other Republican Governor that Democrats are itching to defeat more than Pennsylvania's Tom Corbett.
Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz is the Democratic frontrunner and has a serious shot at becoming the first woman elected governor of the keystone state. But while Schwartz is considered the favorite in a crowded field of Democrats, a familiar name in Pennsylvania politics is weighing a decision to challenge her. Former two term State Auditor General Jack Wagner is a household name in western PA, and says he's considering a run for the state's top job.
"To win statewide in this commonwealth, you must appeal to a cross section of voters," Wagner told MSNBC. "Being a moderate Democrat and having a track record in government is crucial to being able to win in PA," he said.
Wagner, who won more votes (3.26 million) than Barack Obama in Pennsylvania in 2008, emphasizes his moderate credentials because he believes it will take a moderate to win in the fall against Corbett. It's an indirect knock against Schwartz, who some perceive to be too liberal to win the general election. It's also an argument the business friendly centrist State Treasure Rob McCord makes as he travels the state as well.
As MSNBC has reported, Governor Corbett is perhaps the most endangered Republican incumbent governor in the country heading into the 2014 midterm elections.
Political commentator Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said, "perhaps the best way for the Republicans to keep the [winning] streak going would be for Corbett to step aside."
“Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s polling numbers have sagged to the point where Democrats are excited about their opportunity," said the Rothenberg Report's Nathan Gonzalez.
The Washington Post's political corner, "The Fix," described Corbett as the most "vulnerable incumbent in the country" and put him in the number one most endangered spot on his list of governors likely to lose re-election. "We might actually be getting to the point where Republicans would be better served running someone else," the Post said.
Schwartz already has a commanding lead over Corbett and the rest of the Democratic field in most polls, including a new internal poll her campaign released last week. The poll, conducted by President Obama's own polling firm Benenson Strategy Group, shows Schwartz with double digit lead over rivals Kathleen McGinty, Tom Wolf, and McCord. The poll shows the Jenkintown Congresswoman with landslide-like numbers in Philadelphia and leading her rivals in the Pittsburgh area as well.
"I would not assume that she's the frontrunner," Wagner said of Schwartz. "Tom Wolf and Rob McCord will both compete financially and I would not give her the edge," he said.
The crowded field of Democrats is likely to split the primary vote into slices. But aside from desire to take on Corbett next fall, all of these Democrats have one other thing in common--by and large, they represent the eastern region of the state. The crowded field of Democrats could grew even larger and more talented, as it has provided an opening for a credible western Pennsylvania candidate like Jack Wagner to join the fray.
"I'll decide within the next 30 days," Wagner told MSNBC. Until then he remains the 1,000 pound gorilla in the Democratic Primary.
The 2010 nominee, Dan Onorato, hailed from the western part of the state as well. Onorato, however, failed to beat Corbett in Allegheny County, a heavy Democratic population that the two candidates both called home. Wagner, however, could give Corbett a run for his money out west, win Democratic Allegheny County, and pick up the east, including the vote rich Philadelphia and its suburbs, a pragmatic scenario that should make Schwartz nervous if Wagner launches a bid to campaign against Schwartz's electability.
"We have a cordial relationship," Wagner said of Governor Corbett. "He's a man I respect personally, but Pennsylvania and its economy is stuck in the mud right now," he said.
Both natives of the Pittsburgh area, Corbett was a U.S. Attorney from the western region when Wagner served as Pittsburgh City Council President. Wagner is perceived by some to being a perennial candidate having lost a bid for Governor in 2010, Lt. Governor in 2002, and most recently a campaign for Mayor of Pittsburgh in 2013. Then again, it took the very popular former Governor Robert P. Casey three times before he was successfully elected Governor in 1986.
Any Democrat faces an uphill battled against the unpopular but well-funded incumbent, Corbett. A Smart Politics review of Pennsylvania election data finds that the state has voted against the party of the sitting president in 18 of the last 19 gubernatorial contests dating back to 1938.