Pa. Gov. Tom Corbett will be re-elected, rock-bottom poll numbers and all, if the Democrats can't find a candidate voters dislike less. There's no shortage of want-to-bes. But who among them can raise the millions for TV, Internet and troops that a winner is expected to need, from Pa. and out-of-state businesspeople, professionals and lobbyists?
While Comcast consigliere and political fundraiser David L. Cohen has already declared for Corbett, in the past two weeks I've heard from a big-company CEO, the party leader of one of the state's largest (non-Montco) suburbs and one of Philadelphia's leading national Democratic rainmakers -- all three of whom are leaning toward elected State Treasurer McCord -- to my surprise.
So I asked a financial-sector executive who is a close and veteran observer (and sometime diverter) of Democratic cash flow in Pennsylvania to do a little handicapping. He's also McCord-friendly -- but he's emphatic that the treasurer is just one of 4 of the 10 or so expected Democrats who are real contenders at this early date -- and that the first one to drop will likely determine the winner.
- U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, a proud liberal, is wired into national Democratic fundraising circles, which gives her a primary edge and a general-election disadvantage in Pa. Those Democrats not already in her camp tell each other Schwartz is the Corbett camp's favorite opponent.
- Gentlemanly Tom Wolf, who sold his family's York business and wants to do public service, has reputed millions on hand to spend. The question Democratic operatives are asking before they help him spend it: Does Wolf have the stomach for borough-township-ward political dealmaking, or to be effective with the General Assembly?
- Rendell environmental chief turned venture capital operative Katie McGinty enjoys the early support of many of Rendell's former team, though the ex-governor himself says he's neutral.
- Wonkish McCord knows budgets and issues, is the only one of the four who has won statewide office, and has built up a network of political contacts and patronees around the state.
McCord won his first statewide race with strong financial support from his fellow private investment fund bosses. But he lost a stream of potential donors when the money management business began forbidding direct candidate donations a few years back.
He could maybe tap into the East Coast-Midwest network of business people and professionals who helped Delaware Gov. Jack Markell beat his own party's endorsed candidate in his first-term primary. (Though at least three of Markell's home-state backers have lately been busted for 2008 campaign donation violations, that's still strictly a home-state story, at least for now.)
So it's a four-way race, says the financier; a game of chicken; a simple financial equation: Wolf and Schwartz have plenty of money; McCord and McGinty have the connections, energy and messages that might help them raise money.
So whichever of the four drops out first, the remaining candidate of the other gender is the likely winner: If McGinty folds, that makes Schwartz the only woman in the race and the likely winner.
If Wolf decides not to fight but McGinty stays in, that gives McCord a boost in the other direction. Wolf gets a boost if the treasurer folds.
McCord and McGinty will need something north of $2.5 million just to get to the primary respectably. That's a steep hill to climb.