Best cleanup candidate expected to win Pennsylvania AG race |
Politics Election

Best cleanup candidate expected to win Pennsylvania AG race

The scandal embroiling outgoing Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane could shape whom voters in November choose to lead the office.

“The race will be about who can best clean up Harrisburg,” Kyle Kopko, a political science professor at Elizabethtown College, said Wednesday.

Kane, the first Democrat elected attorney general, decided not to seek re-election in the wake of pending criminal charges, a suspended law license and an office in turmoil. Republican state Sen. John Rafferty and Montgomery County Commission Chair Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, won their primaries Tuesday, creating a matchup between the two longtime politicians.

Rafferty said he expects the race to cost $4 million to $5 million, and acknowledged that he will have to appeal to voters from all parties to overcome the Democrats’ nearly 1 million voter registration advantage over Republicans.

“I need R’s and D’s and I’s to vote for me to win an election,” Rafferty said.

Rafferty won a sleepy Republican primary, compared to the Democrats’ race.

Shapiro spent nearly $1.6 million through the beginning of April to fight off Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. and Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli.

By comparison, Rafferty spent only about $121,000 fighting off his opponent, Joe Peters, who racked up a $17,000 campaign tab.

What’s more, Rafferty received about 105,000 more votes than Shapiro in their respective two-way and three-way primaries.

Scandal could be used against Shapiro

Republicans will try to use the Kane scandal against Shapiro to say, “We don’t need another Democrat in the AG’s office given Kathleen Kane,” said G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College.

If Kane is acquitted it might dilute that contention, Madonna said. It would not be unusual to see her trial set for August delayed, perhaps past the election, he said.

“I think the Republicans win this election” because of Kane’s problems, said Gerald Shuster, a professor of political communications at the University of Pittsburgh.

Shapiro said Kane’s problems won’t spill into his campaign.

“Voters are smart enough to know the difference between her problems and issues of the commonwealth,” Shapiro said in a conference call with reporters. “I think these issues are unique to Attorney General Kane.”

Shapiro said he wants to strengthen penalties for corruption in Harrisburg, which requires legislation; impose a “comprehensive” gift ban in the attorney general’s office; establish a code of conduct; require ethics training; and update ethics rules.

Rafferty side-stepped questions about whether the Kane controversy will help him win.

Integrity to be restored

He said he would restore integrity to the office by pledging to serve his full term and not seek higher office.

“That way you’re taking that office out of the political spotlight,” Rafferty said.

Shapiro has said in a debate he intends to serve a full term if elected.

Zappala, in his concession speech Tuesday, wished the winner in November well.

Zappala’s support from voters failed to stretch beyond Western Pennsylvania despite the campaigning he did in the Philadelphia area.

Shapiro beat Zappala by more than 150,000 votes. He won in the East, in the center of the state and made inroads into Zappala’s home turf, winning in Erie and Crawford counties and taking at least 20 percent in Allegheny County and elsewhere in the region.

Zappala won 73 percent of the vote in Allegheny County and Shapiro took 23 percent.

Zappala’s 106,000-vote advantage from his home county was erased by Shapiro’s 82,000-vote win in his home county and 65,000-vote win in Philadelphia.

Zappala picked up 34 percent of the vote in Philadelphia and 13 percent in Montgomery.

“He’s much more involved in the political process. I’ve never really been,” Zappala said of Shapiro, noting his big-name supporters such as President Barack Obama, Gov. Tom Wolf and former Gov. Ed Rendell. “I’ve been elected five times, but I really never considered it a political process because my forum, where I work, is the courthouse. I work the streets. My criteria is evidence. My criteria is the truth, and politics is a little bit different.”

Zappala said he learned a great deal during the campaign, particularly about the value of communicating through social media.“I just didn’t do a good enough of a job in that regard,” he said.

Zappala said the campaign was an opportunity to reconnect with his sons, one of whom voted for the first time (and voted for his father) and another who campaigned with his father statewide.

Now he’ll return to work at the Allegheny County Courthouse.

“Being district attorney is an honor, and every day I come to work I know that,” Zappala said. “Tomorrow, I’m going to be district attorney again. It was a chance to do more for the people of Pennsylvania, and it didn’t work out.”

Brad Bumsted and Aaron Aupperlee are Tribune-Review staff writers.

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