NEW YORK (AP) — The race for Pennsylvania’s next governor got its unofficial start inside the hotels and private clubs of midtown Manhattan on Saturday.
Nearly 200 miles from Pennsylvania’s state capital, an optimistic Republican Gov. Tom Corbett declared that his popularity is growing, just as a slate of high-profile Democrats said otherwise while jockeying for the chance to challenge him next fall.
“I knew from the day I walked in that it was not going to be a bed of roses,” Corbett told reporters before a closed-door speech at the private Metropolitan Club. “But I think people will understand when it comes to November of next year, that when you make your promises you keep them. And we have the economy slowly moving forward.”
Despite his rosy outlook, polls suggest that Corbett is among the nation’s most vulnerable governors.
He shared the stage with one of Pennsylvania’s best-known political figures, Vice President Joe Biden, a Scranton native whose appearance was the highlight of a weekend of political festivities known as the Pennsylvania Society, a series of private parties, fundraisers and networking events that brings Pennsylvania’s leading elected officials and political operatives to Manhattan every year.
Given Corbett’s low popularity, the governor’s race has been the dominant theme of this year’s gathering. But while polls suggest that Corbett is struggling with Democrats and Republicans, he has no primary challenger thus far.
“I see a Pennsylvania’s future that is bright, that is growing, that is going to lead the nation,” Corbett said at a black-tie dinner Saturday night inside the Waldorf Astoria hotel.
Earlier in the day, Democrats looking to defeat Corbett were jockeying for position in a crowded party primary.
U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, the self-described early front-runner, said the state must move beyond “stale politics and inaction.”
“I share with Pennsylvanians the concerns about the inaction that’s been happening not only in Washington, but in Harrisburg as well,” said Schwartz, a member of Congress since 2005.
She acknowledged that the Democratic primary will be expensive and that she’s likely to be outspent by some of her Democratic opponents.
Schwartz has lined her gubernatorial campaign account with more than $3 million transferred from political committees that helped elect her to Congress and the state Senate. But Democratic businessman Tom Wolf has said that his campaign has raised $2.9 million this year in addition to the $10 million he plans to spend out of his pocket in the primary contest.
Pennsylvania State Treasurer Rob McCord, another Democrat, is also expected to dip into his personal wealth to help finance his candidacy.
“I’m well built for that kind of long, rough and tumble race,” McCord said of the Democratic primary. “I put together a lot of resources when I was an investor type. I expect to put together a lot of resources in my latest endeavor.”
Other Democrats vying for the party’s nomination include former state Environmental Protection Secretary Katie McGinty and Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski.
State Attorney General Kathleen Kane, also a Democrat, said she has ruled out a run for governor, but left open the possibility of challenging Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey in 2016.
“Whatever happens years down the road, so be it,” she said.