Anyone who occasionally sits in front of a television set will likely be relieved once May 20 has come and gone. That’s the day of the Pennsylvania primary, and when it’s done we’ll have relief from the relentless campaign advertisements by the gubernatorial hopefuls. That is, until the campaign for the general election in November kicks off.
The primary campaign began very early, when York businessman Tom Wolf used $10 million (half of it borrowed) to catapult himself from obscurity to fame. The other Democrats in the race to replace Republican Gov. Tom Corbett were slow to react. When they did, they took the high road at first, trumpeting their own qualifications and accomplishments and avoiding criticism of their opponents. Katie McGinty, the former state environmental protection secretary, in early commercials bragged about being from a “working family.” It’s good to know that she’s not part of the landed gentry, or maybe raised by welfare recipients.
Eventually, however, and perhaps inevitably, it got ugly.
Rep. Allyson Schwartz targeted the $20 million Wolf received from his company in 2006 when he reduced his ownership stake and gave up day-to-day control, claiming the resulting debt led to layoffs. Wolf surrendered control in order to serve as revenue secretary under Gov. Ed Rendell. The company claims the layoffs were a result of the recession. Wolf returned to day-to-day management of the company in 2009.
State Treasurer Rob McCord’s attack ads have been the nastiest. He has accused Wolf of outsourcing jobs to non-Pennsylvanians in Indiana: not in Indiana, Pa., but in “Indiana, Indiana!”
In a truly low blow, McCord attempted to portray Wolf as a racist-sympathizer. The McCord ad question’s Wolf’s relationship with former York Mayor Charlie Robertson, who in 2002 was acquitted of a murder charge in the 1969 death of a black woman during York’s deadly race riots. The advertisement has been widely condemned, most notably by York’s African American community, but that has not stopped McCord from repeating his inferences in campaign appearances.
Corbett, who has no opponent in the Republican primary, has no need to campaign at this time, being the only person on the ballot. That has not stopped him from jumping on the Democratic hopefuls’ wack-Wolf bandwagon. A Corbett TV ad attacks Wolf’s service as revenue secretary in 2007 and 2008, claiming taxes “went through the roof,” leading to massive job losses and high unemployment. Problem is, there were no broad-based state tax increases during those years, and job losses here and across the country were due to the Great Recession, not Tom Wolf’s job performance.
It would be just as ludicrous to blame Corbett’s performance in his previous job as attorney general for the rise in illegal immigration, school shootings or heroin use.
The only one in the race so far to avoid the negative campaigning is McGinty. Her advisers are probably hoping that staying out of the mud will elevate her in the minds of voters. That’s about all her backers can afford, because she is woefully short of money. The $3.5 million she’s raised is only half what McCord gathered, and his $7 million is half of what Wolf has taken in.
As much as people complain about negative political advertisements, there’s a reason we keep seeing them: They work. We would love to see the day when voters show their disgust at mudslinging by actually casting their ballots for the positive office-seeker who would rather promote his or her solutions to problems rather than denigrating rivals. But too many voters are ill-informed, and candidates with a sense of decency too rare.