In a few weeks, many of us will vote in the Pennsylvania primary. Most of us have already decided on our choices for Congress and state House and Senate. So the unresolved issue is who the LGBT community should support of the three Democratic candidates for governor. There is a fourth candidate, Jack Wagner, but his positions on LGBT rights are so limited, he should not even be considered by our community.
Let’s put this right out front. I am currently unaligned with any of the candidates and that’s also why I’m writing this column: Maybe by doing so, I can see a clear reason to support one over the others.
The candidates are Joe Hoeffel from Montgomery County, Dan Onorato from Allegheny County and Tony Williams from Philadelphia. Let’s look at their words and deeds and see how they stack up.
Hoeffel: likely the most outspoken on our issues. The only one of the candidates that support marriage equality. On the issues, he gets an A-plus. Deeds: While in Congress, he got a 100-percent voting-record score from Human Rights Campaign, but as a current Montgomery County commissioner, he has not been able to craft a compromise with his two Republican commissioners to have the county join the 16 other counties in the state that have gay-rights protections.
Onorato: came late to the table in embracing gay rights, but when he did, he helped craft a legislative compromise that ended a deadlock in Allegheny County to create gay-rights protections. Pragmatic political move in favor of gay rights gets an A. He supports all gay-rights initiatives with the exception of marriage equality: He supports civil unions.
Williams: most likely the best voting record on gay issues of all the candidates. He also has used his position to assist the LGBT community with funding. Like Onorato, he supports all gay-rights initiatives with the exception of marriage equality: He too supports civil unions.
Now let’s look pragmatically at the political map.
In a Democratic primary, the big votes come from the five-county Philadelphia area and Allegheny County, along with a few other pockets. Without one, the other or both, your candidacy is sunk.
Philadelphia and the five counties: The most liberal in the state. Should have been an easy win for Hoeffel, but Williams’ entrance into the race with strong backing from Mayor Nutter, state Rep. Dwight Evans and U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, and the fact that Williams will have more funds than Hoeffel, translates into a close race. Result: Neither comes out of the race with enough votes to carry the state. And with Onorato already advertising on TV and with the funds to continue, he’ll get a share of the votes.
Allegheny County: This is a dogfight between Onorato and Wagner. Onorato has the money and momentum, while Wagner’s campaign is limping along. Hoeffel and Williams are unknown there and, with only six weeks to go, will make little impact unless they spend big on media, which neither can nor will do. Expect a sizable win here for Onorato.
About those other pockets around the state: While Hoeffel, Onorato and Williams are going for mega-hits in Philadelphia and Allegheny, Wagner’s strategy is based on those pockets. He’s done well there but they are limited votes, and without a strong showing in his home base, he can’t do it.
Putting it all together, it’s really still a horse race but seems to favor Onorato. But six weeks are a long time in a political campaign. A little creativity to spark an uninterested populace thus far could change the dynamics of the race.
I must admit that I’m still where I started — unaligned. The only question I haven’t answered is who would run best against the likely Republican candidate, right-wing Tom Corbett, in the fall. Onorato is positioning himself as the centrist, while Hoeffel is leaning to the left. The question is, who could energize his base in the fall as well as get the remainder of Pennsylvania voters?
So in a state that for 100 years has always switched parties for governor every eight years, why are so many Democrats interested? Here’s the math. There are more Democrats registered in Pennsylvania than Republicans. And if, as expected, Arlen Specter is the Senate candidate and Jonathan Saidel is the lieutenant governor candidate — two extremely popular candidates within the five-county Philadelphia region — the Democratic ticket has a real shot.
Mark Segal is PGN publisher. He can be reached at [email protected].