Saturday, December 27, 2014

A not-so-great Democratic debate

The first Democratic debate among candidates seeking to challenge incumbent Gov. Corbett isn't drawing much attention -- or participation.

A not-so-great Democratic debate

Gov. Tom Corbett speaks during an event with Chilean Minister of Agriculture, Luis Mayol Bouchon at Packer Avenue Marine Terminal, Tuesday, May 14, 2013, in Philadelphia.  The news conference was held to highlight the import of Chilean fruit to port of Philadelphia. ( AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
Gov. Tom Corbett speaks during an event with Chilean Minister of Agriculture, Luis Mayol Bouchon at Packer Avenue Marine Terminal, Tuesday, May 14, 2013, in Philadelphia. The news conference was held to highlight the import of Chilean fruit to port of Philadelphia. ( AP Photo/Matt Rourke) AP

Even with Gov. Corbett's poor polling numbers, verbal miscues and (so far) questionable policy leadership, an early chance for his potential opponents to be publicly seen and heard is falling flat.

That's because a forum designed to attract maybe the largest field of candidates to ever line up against an incumbent Pennsylvania governor isn't getting much attention, or participation.

Set for Wednesday evening at a Harrisburg bookstore, the event is to allow hopefuls in the 2014 governor's race to interact with the public. It's drawing two participants -- both first-time candidates with little or no statewide name ID.

The rest of the field of possible Corbett opponents next year can't (or won't) make it.

Oh yeah, Corbett also was invited. He can't make it either.

So, despite a change for an early sounding of ideas, despite the lure of statewide TV coverage (PCN is recording the event and plans to air it Thursday), the Associated Press reports only former state environmental secretary John Hanger and Central Pennsylvania Evangelical minister Max Myers say they'll be there.

Allyson Schwartz, Rob McCord, Katie McGinty, Tom Wolf, Mike Stack, Ed Pawlowski? Not so much.

After all, ducking the public is often a key element in political strategy.

Hanger, who was the first Democrat to announce his candidacy and who constantly issues policy statements or criticisms of Corbett that sound like trees falling in an empty forest, says he can't wait to debate.

Myers, a former Republican who wants to solve the state's problems with a "Peoples' Commission" rather than legislation or state funding, sees the forum as an opportunity to speak directly to voters.

The forum is sponsored by the community group Harrisburg Hope. It's to be held at Midtown Scholar Bookstore. Harrisburg is buried in debt and facing possible bankruptcy. The bookstore is owned by the recent winner of a contested Democratic mayoral primary, Eric Papenfuse. Primary results deniied first-time incumbent Democratic Mayor Linda Thompson a shot at reelection.

Maybe it's just too early. Maybe candidates with a shot at the nomination don't want to risk a misstep. Maybe nobody but Hanger and Myers has decided exactly what his or her campaign is about. Or maybe modern politics has become all clever videos and snarky statements -- and never standing in front of the public.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at baerj@phillynews.com.

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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