We haven't even had our 2008 primaries in Pennsylvania and the jockeying for the 2010 gubernatorial race is already in full swing. If you were able to go to the festivities in New York this weekend, the evidence of this was abundantly clear, especially on the Democrat side. Conventional wisdom put names like Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, State Auditor General Jack Wagner and Lehigh County Executive Don Cunningham as top tier contenders, with Dan Onorato looking like the early favorite among Rendell's old money apparatus. (All three of them held swanky receptions at PA society this weekend.) Wishful thinkers, such as the Democrat architect of the 2005 pay raise, Sen. Bob Mellow want to run as well but don't realize they have zero chance of winning either the nomination or general election.
Out of this field of likely contenders, the obvious question arises, where is the Philly area liberal Democrat that will enter the race? Some people have mentioned Commissioner-Elect Joe Hoeffel as a possibility but that doesn't seem likely because of his poor performance against Arlen Specter in 2004. Also, Hoeffel's recent failure to capture the courthouse in Montgomery County for the Democrats when it was the best chance they had in over 120 years didn't increase his chances either.
Then who could be the southeast Democrat juggernaut? The very person that fits that description was in NYC slowly building relationships and courting potential future supporters, the giant elephant in the room (or donkey in this case) if you will. It was former 2007 Philadelphia mayoral candidate Tom Knox. He was there as talking amongst the power brokers, fundraisers and other players in the Democrat machinery. Recently as month when it was mentioned recently in an article about his possible 2010 gubernatorial run, many people (insiders) scoffed at the notion. However, I would caution against their easy dismissals and suggest that Tom Knox is in a better position than any ofthe aforementioned potential candidates to capture the Democrat nomination in 2010 for three very good reasons: money, geography and ideology.
Money, one of the most important factors in any statewide run, is something that will not be a problem for Tom Knox. Tom Know has enough in personal wealth to compete against any candidate and is not afraid to use it as seen in his 2007 mayoral run. Furthermore, his name identification has been raised significantly in the Philadelphia region where he just spent a boatload this cycle. He doesn't need to completely finance his entire run nor should he, but he will have the funds to compete against any of those potential contenders mentioned above or any others that may emerge.
Like many other political races in Pennsylvania, a lot hinges on geography and in this instance, Tom Knox is the best geographically suited candidate among the Democrats. With upwards of 40% of the Democrat primary voters residing in the Southeast (Philadelphia plus Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties) Tom Knox is sitting pretty as the Philadelphia area candidate, especially with his new found high name ID and positive ratings as a result of his mayoral race. No other Democrat from the southeast has the money, name ID or organizational structure to match him, leaving him the lone southeast Democrat contender. Aiding him is the fact that his two main presumed main rivals, Dan Onorato and Jack Wagner hail from the Pittsburgh area thus splitting the Democrat primary vote in the West, where another sizeable chunk (about 25- 30%) of the Democrat primary vote exists. Don Cunningham will do well in Lehigh Valley but he is virtually unknown in the Philadelphia media market and anywhere outside the Lehigh Valley.
Finally, ideology, which also ties into geography, is a huge factor that is on the side of Tom Knox. Dan Onorato and Jack Wagner describing themselves as "conservative" Democrats; (i.e. pro -life and pro-gun) are sure to split up the "conservative" Democrat vote in the western part of the state and other areas. Don Cunningham, who has been known to flip-flop on the abortion issue and is now considering whether to switch back to pro-choice position since he is thinking about a statewide run, could take some of the conservative/moderate Democrat away in the Lehigh Valley.
That leaves a great opportunity for a true liberal progressive candidate to emerge from the field. Liberals in a Democrat primary make up a sizable majority of that electorate. Aiding Knox is the fact that an overwhelming amount of those liberal Democrats reside in the southeastern part of the state where Tom Knox is known and his brand of politics, like Rendell's, is sure to win over that crowd. Also, liberal Democrat voters and activists across the state will not settle for another Casey style Democrat and will be searching for their candidate. Knox is in the best position to capture the liberal Democrat primary voters outside the Philadelphia area as well because he will be the only true pro-choice, pro- gun control liberal Democrat in the race. You will probably have three to five moderate/conservative Democrats hailing from the west, northeast and possibly other areas of the state splitting up the roughly 30% -45% of the Democrat primary that is more moderate to conservative.
Tom Knox will be the ONLY candidate with the money, message and manpower to capture the liberal progressive Democrat primary vote which accounts for 50% to 60% of the Democrat primary voters. After considering all these factors, Tom Knox, if he runs, is the odds on favorite to win the Democratic nomination for governor in 2010.
And, if skeptics think this is plausible but that he can't win a general election, I want people to think back to the 2002 primary right after Rendell soundly dispatched of Bob Casey. I clearly recall the Republican insiders salivating at the fact that Mike Fisher was to due battle with "the liberal Philadelphia mayor." And look how well their plan turned out.
Ryan Shafik is the Communications Director of the
Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research, Inc., a Harrisburg-based non-profit, educational foundation, and host of the Lincoln Radio Journal.