Barack Obama is back in office and moving in a liberal direction. So now it’s time to think ahead about building progressive power. The most important thing we can do in Pennsylvania is to replace Tom Corbett as Governor. So it’s a little surprising to me is that, with all the talk about this candidate or that, the one Pennsylvania politician who is best placed to defeat Governor Corbett, Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, is not being asked by everyone to run. The main reason, I suspect, is that most people who pay close attention to politics don’t think she will do so. And some folks, for the usual reasons, have trouble getting their head around the idea of a woman as Governor.
I have no inside knowledge about whether Congresswoman Schwartz is considering a race. But I strongly believe that she should run. After explaining why, I’ll come back to the issue of whether she will or not.
Tom Corbett needs to be and can be defeated
Tom Corbett looks vulnerable, in part because he’s done a terrible job defending the public policies he has supported but even more because those policies have terribly hurt working people and the middle class. On education, health care, women’s health issues and the regulation of natural gas production Corbett has undermined government programs meant to provide security and opportunity to Pennsylvanians in order to keep taxes low on businesses and the wealthy. He has tried to undermine the public sector, and public sector unions, that do so much to support the economy in tough times. And his stubborn resistance to any new state taxes has forced the majority of municipalities around the state to either raise their own taxes or slash spending for education and social services.
A good time to elect a Democratic Governor
Not only is Corbett beatable, but electing a Democratic Governor in 2014 is, for three reasons, more important and exciting than usual. First, with a pickup of three seats in the State Senate, and growing Democratic strength in Southeastern PA, it is possible to imagine that the next Democratic Governor could create what Governor Rendell never had, a working majority in the General Assembly. Second, with the economy turning around, state finances are likely to start growing soon. Together with all the money that Corbett has left on the table by not taxing the natural gas industry, there will be money to attain Democratic goals. And third, with the Affordable Care Act coming fully into effect in 2014, we need a Democratic Governor committed to implementing it in an effective and fair way—and rolling back Corbett’s cuts to general assistance and other programs.
So a Democratic Governor elected in 2014 has the possibility of taking major strides forward on the issues that mean so much to us. But any Governor, even one as unpopular as Tom Corbett, can raise money and get free media attention. Corbett is beatable but only if we run an especially strong and effective candidate against him.
There are at least four good reason why Congresswoman Schwartz would be not only the best Democratic candidate for Governor but also the best Governor Democrats could elect.
The Democratic politician best prepared to be Governor
First, she is the Democrat best prepared to be Governor. She has far more experience than anyone else considering a race, not only in Washington and Harrisburg but in running social service agencies and in city government. Her knowledge of public policy is deep and broad. Her political skills are finely honed. And she attracts and empowers a great staff. Being the best qualified to be Governor is not the only thing that wins elections. But any challenger to an incumbent has to overcome the experience gap. With Allyson Schwartz opposing Corbett, that gap is non-existent.
The Democratic candidate best positioned to win
Second, Schwartz is not only better known statewide than any other potential Democratic candidate (aside from Senator Casey who does not look he is running), she is also perfectly positioned politically to defeat Corbett. Incumbents are most likely to be defeated by candidates who are strong on important issues where they are weak. Both in Harrisburg and Washington, Allyson Schwartz has focused her career on education, health care and the status of women, issues that are central to Pennsylvanian voters and on which Corbett is distressingly bad. She’s done so by working on the progressive side of possibility to pass legislation that has made real improvements in the lives of people. And, as a woman, she can be especially effective in drawing attention to these issues.
Now critics of a Schwartz run for Governor will disagree with me from two different directions. Some will say that she is too liberal especially on abortion. They say that Pennsylvania are most likely to elect Democrats when they are economic liberals but social conservatives. To them I say, come join the 21st century. That old model still works, but only if your name is Bob Casey. If your name is anything else—say Ron Klink—it fails. In this age of political division and growing suburban support for Democrats, especially among women, the center of the Pennsylvania Democratic Party is in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Both Governor Rendell and President Obama have shown that Democrats win this state by large victories in SEPA, smaller victories in Allegheny, Erie, Lackawana, Luzerne and holding their own elsewhere. These victories were powered not just by economic but also social liberalism.
The claim of the first critics, that she is too liberal for the state, is belied by the second critics who say that she is too moderate. Nate Kleinman’s primary campaign against her showed that Allyson Schwartz is a progressive who understands that our critical task is to win over the center. Her moderately progressive record pushed against the constraints of the swing 13th district she represented without breaking them. If Corbett calls Schwartz’s common sense views in support of quality education and health care for all radical, he will show how far he is from the mainstream of our politics.
The Democratic candidate who will run the best race
Third, Schwartz is an excellent campaigner. It will take her a minute to rise up to the kind of campaign presence needed in a race for Governor. But she has done that before when she moved from the State Senate to Congress. No one works harder than Schwartz at mastering the nuts and bolts of politics, from learning how to present Democratic policy ideas in a broadly appealing way to building a campaign organization to raising money. She became such an indefatigable fundraiser as a member of Congress that she has helped other members all around the country. In the process, she has made nationwide connections that could help her in a campaign for Governor. At the moment she has far more money in her campaign fund than any other candidate and all of it can be transferred to a race for Governor.
Congresswoman Schwartz also understands contemporary campaigns. She’ll raise the money for a large media campaign. But, beginning with her first run for Congress, she has shown that understands that there is still an important place for a strong field campaign that turns people out at the polls.
The Democratic candidate most likely to generate enthusiastic support
And that leads to a fourth point: more than any other candidate Schwartz will create the kind of excitement needed to overcome the biggest obstacle to defeating Corbett, low Democratic turnout in off-year elections. Like Rendell did, she will strongly appeal to voters in Philadelphians and its suburbs. And that, together with the prospect of electing the first woman Governor of Pennsylvania, especially one with a strong record of progressive achievement, is just what we need not only to bring people to the polls but to build a strong base of volunteer activists. It takes an exciting issue (like health care) or an exciting candidate (like President Obama) to build the kind of integrated field / internet campaign that can effectively mobilize thousands of volunteers to knock on doors and make phone calls. An Allyson Schwartz campaign for Governor could do that and make a Democratic off-year victory possible.
Will she run?
But will she run? My first thought was no. Congresswoman Schwartz has been building an impressive career in the House. She will keep rising there. But there are a lot of Democrats ahead of her in line for choice party and committee posts. And the small Democratic delegation in the House from Pennsylvania makes some of them difficult to attain. She could run for Senate against Pat Toomey. But it’s not clear to me that starting over in the Senate in four years would give her that much more clout than she has now and given how the Senate works, it might not satisfy her inclination to get into the details of public policy. Ever since I met her more than ten years ago, it’s been clear that Allyson Schwartz is in politics not to hold office but to make life better for people. There is no political office in Pennsylvania that gives one a greater opportunity for doing that then Governor.
So, while it would be a risk to leave Congress, I can’t imagine that Representative Schwartz is not considering a run for Governor. And while I know enough about what running for office means for both a candidate and his or her family to not say this lightly, if she’s not considering it, for the sake of the citizens of our Commonwealth, she should be. There are other good people who are said to be considering a race. I’ve been particularly impressed with Treasurer Rob McCord. And, despite Senator Casey’s views on abortion—which are potentially more problematic in the Governor’s office than in the Senate—I’ve long been impressed with his passion for economic justice.
But there is no one as likely to run, win, and serve impressively than Allyson Schwartz.
What you can do
If you agree with me, do something about it. Call her office at (215) 881-9202 and tell her not only that you want her to run, but that you will help elect her our next Governor. Or go to her Facebook page and post a message asking her to run.