‘Cash is going to be king’ in Pennsylvania attorney general race
Editor’s note: Stephen A. Zappala Jr.’s campaign joined Twitter the day this story was published.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. has an email account. He just hasn’t used it yet.
His campaign for Pennsylvania attorney general launched a Facebook page recently but not a Twitter account.
“I’m not sure if we will,” Marty Marks, a spokesman for his attorney general campaign, said of Twitter. “That’s a pretty big leap.”
Candidates vying to replace Attorney General Kathleen Kane this year will blend traditional political tactics with slick digital campaigns to put their message where voters are looking, campaign strategists and political observers told the Tribune-Review.
Zappala, 58, of Fox Chapel is among four Democrats seeking the party’s nomination.
Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro, 42, and Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, 60, are running.
Kane, 49, has said she is running, even though her law license is suspended and she faces criminal charges, possible removal by the state Senate and potential impeachment by the state House.
State Sen. John Rafferty, 62, of Montgomery County is the only Republican candidate.
A recent Harper Poll showed 31 percent of 640 likely Democratic primary voters surveyed support Kane. Zappala received 18 percent and Shapiro, 13 percent. Nine percent would vote for Morganelli. The poll had an error margin of nearly 4 percentage points.
“In this race, if Kathleen Kane stays in the race and continues with her campaign, in order for anyone to win, cash is going to be king,” said Michael Bronstein, a Democratic ad strategist with Philadelphia-based Bronstein and Weaver.
Kane’s presence will force candidates to run negative ads against her and positive ads about themselves, he said.
“Whenever you have to do negative and positive,” he noted, “that is going to be very costly in a statewide race.”
Money in the bank
Kane spent $5.4 million in 2012 to defeat Patrick Murphy in the Democratic primary and Republican David Freed in the general election. Bronstein expects Democrats to spend a couple of million dollars to win the primary this year.
Joe Radosevich, spokesman for Shapiro, said the campaign is prepared to match Kane’s spending from 2012. Marks said the Zappala campaign has budgeted $2 million for the primary and is prepared to spend $3 million.
Zappala and Shapiro would not comment for this article. Chuck Ardo, Kane’s spokesman, said he did not know if the attorney general has campaign staff.
Kane has declined to comment on her campaign.
Morganelli said he has been actively raising money, and campaign finance reports due Monday will show his campaign has $513,000 in the bank.
“Right now, we’re still developing television spots,” he said.
Marks said Zappala’s report will show his campaign ended 2015 with about $500,000 in the bank.
Radosevich said Shapiro’s report will show the campaign has about $1.4 million as of the end of the year.
Rafferty’s campaign strategist, Mike Barley, said the report won’t show a “huge number” and that the campaign is in the early stages of fundraising and ad strategy.
Bronstein said the primary race likely will come down to Zappala and Shapiro — and the winner will have to shore up his geographic base of support and make inroads elsewhere in the state.
Zappala has been district attorney in Allegheny County since 1998. He faced a challenger for the post in 1999 but has not since. Zappala’s father, Stephen A. Zappala Sr., was a state Supreme Court chief justice, and his grandfather, Frank J. Zappala, was a state representative and a magistrate.
Bronstein, however, doubts how much political weight the Zappala name carries in Eastern Pennsylvania. He had the same doubts about Shapiro — well-known in Southeast Pennsylvania and coming off a convincing commissioner re-election bid in 2015 — in Western Pennsylvania.
“It’s too early to tell,” Bronstein said about political ties and name recognition. “I think they are still working the back rooms.”
Zappala was in Philadelphia on Thursday speaking to law firms to raise support and money, Marks said. John Dougherty, business manager for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 98 and a labor leader in Philadelphia, has been helping Zappala’s campaign, Marks has said.
Zappala’s father endorsed and appeared in a television advertisement for Dougherty’s brother, Supreme Court Justice Kevin Dougherty, during his successful election run in 2015.
Radosevich pointed to Shapiro’s recent endorsement by the Central Pennsylvanian mayors of Lancaster, Harrisburg and York as a sign of his growing popularity.
“This campaign is encouraged by the support it is receiving in all corners of Pennsylvania,” Radosevich said.
Dana Brown, executive director of Chatham University’s Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics, said name recognition is important in “low-information” races such as an attorney general’s race. Voters typically have little information about what the attorney general does — and about each candidate, Brown said.
“Both candidates are going to spend a lot of time introducing themselves to the commonwealth” through traditional ads on television, radio and mailings, she said.
“This is not a race that generally gets a lot of attention from younger voters, the millennial generation, but certainly that doesn’t mean that social media and the newer forms of media, like YouTube, don’t have a role to play. Most people get so much of their news on their phones now.”
No candidate has started traditional advertising. Bronstein said the sooner a candidate goes on TV and stays on TV, the better.
Shapiro ran a digital-savvy 2015 re-election campaign for county commissioner, Bronstein said. Shapiro placed political advertisements in smartphone apps, on Facebook, and before and after television shows and music streaming on Pandora and Hulu.
Shapiro ads for attorney general are running in the Pittsburgh market on websites and NYT Now, a New York Times mobile news app.
Marks said Zappala is sharpening social media and digital campaign skills. The last time Zappala ran a competitive campaign, there were no smartphones, no Facebook or Twitter, and Google was in its first year.
As district attorney, Zappala has said he does not use a computer or send emails, and he uses a smartphone only as a telephone. His office started a Twitter account Jan. 6.
Brown said Zappala’s digital shortcomings are not insurmountable. But he really should get a Twitter account, she said.
Marks said the campaign has hired Mandate Media, an Oregon company with roots in Pennsylvania, as a social media consultant.
“I’d like to think that we are as savvy as they are,” Marks said about Shapiro’s digital efforts.
Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7986.