There’s still little daylight between the positions espoused by the Democratic candidates for Pennsylvania governor, as evidenced by the Friday debate in Harrisburg hosted by Keystone Progress, a progressive Democrats’ group.
Most all of the six Democratic candidates who participated in the two-hour long debate could have pulled a muscle being nice. They poured water for one another from the shared pitchers on stage and shared off-mic jokes. They complimented, echoed each other’s policy positions, and rarely asked for time to give a rebuttal to someone else’s answer.
“They’re so friendly,” said moderator Eileen Connelly about half an hour into the debate. But there were sidelong glances at each other’s debate notes, and the night was not entirely devoid of nuanced rebuttals.
Plenty of people are eagerly awaiting the part of this race when candidates begin to clearly distinguish themselves from the others, perhaps by besmirching the experience or records of their competition. But polls show far more people haven’t yet begun thinking about the primary, still more than two months away. A Franklin and Marshall College poll of registered Democrats last week showed 48 percent undecided.
Rob McCord was the most aggressive candidate at the table, seizing on opportunities to both defend his own answers and point out the subtle differences between his own views and those of his primary opponents. He announced a plan to hike the state’s $7.25 minimum wage to $10.70, a higher bump than was proposed by Katie McGinty, who had previously made the issue central to her campaign. McCord also took a shot at York County businessman Tom Wolf, the candidate leading in last week’s statewide polls on the race.
McCord said his minimum wage hike announcement was an effort to “try to create some real news when people were covering it after Tom’s ads and paying attention.” The reference was to Wolf’s recent surge in television campaign ads. So far, Wolf and McGinty, a former Department of Environmental Protection secretary, are the only Democratic candidates who have taken to the airwaves.
Wolf, who personally has donated as much as $10 million to his campaign, addressed the issue of his deep pockets during a question about campaign finance reform.
“I lament the role that money plays in democracy I think it is distortive,” he said. “Now, that sounds really hypocritical. I put $10 million of my own money in and I think money distorts. How can that be? Well, I don’t have too many other advantages in this race.” It was a reference to the better statewide name recognition of some of the other gubernatorial candidates, like McCord, who two years ago secured his second term as state treasurer, and Allyson Schwartz, in her fifth term as a U.S. congresswoman.
Also in attendance at the debate were John Hanger, another former Department of Environmental Protection secretary, and Jo Ellen Litz, Lebanon County commissioner.
The most recent entrant to the Democratic race, former state auditor general Jack Wagner, didn’t show for the debate — nor did Gov. Tom Corbett, who was also invited, according to the event’s organizer.