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Pa. Attorney General Kane’s star may be fading for Democrats

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Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane listens to questions and comments from the audience at a community drug forum at the Penn Hills Library Saturday, April 5, 2014.

HARRISBURG — Blunt statements by Philadelphia’s most powerful Democrat may signal trouble for Kathleen Kane, even as other Democrats publicly are noncommittal about their support for the embattled attorney general, political analysts say.

Two years into her term as the first woman and Democrat elected attorney general, Kane took the unusual step of announcing her re-election bid two weeks ago while awaiting the outcome of a statewide grand jury investigation into whether she leaked information about a man never charged with a crime in order to embarrass a prosecutor with whom she is feuding.

Recent critical comments from U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, chairman of the Philadelphia Democratic Committee and the state’s senior congressman, and in the spring from Gov.-elect Tom Wolf “show significant erosion of confidence in the attorney general among Democrats and may be a harbinger of even more critical treatment from within her party,” said Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

“If Democrats feel she is beyond the point of a comeback, they will increasingly distance themselves from Kane and start to look at alternatives in the 2016 primary,” Borick said. “She is at that tipping point now, if not already past the point of no return.”

Kane’s aides did not respond to inquiries.

Her remarks insisting that she’ll run for a second term, voiced while attending The Pennsylvania Society’s annual weekend in Manhattan, were made a few days before a Philadelphia grand jury and District Attorney Seth Williams blasted her for not prosecuting several Democrats accused of bribery.

Williams charged two state lawmakers with accepting cash from an informant. Former Traffic Court Judge Thomasine Tynes pleaded guilty last week to accepting a $2,000 bracelet from the informant. Williams said the investigation continues.

Kane had declined to prosecute the case, citing legal flaws.

“Having been an attorney for 24 years, no two attorneys ever see the same set of facts in an identical fashion,” Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Jim Burn said. “This situation will play out in the courts.”

But Brady, who could not be reached, told The Philadelphia Inquirer last week that Williams’ decision on the so-called “sting case” appeared to show Kane was “asleep at the switch.”

Brady “is very powerful. He’s tied to the power structure of the city,” said G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.

Any Democrat running for statewide office needs “a strong showing” in Philadelphia, which is home to more Democrats than any other Pennsylvania city, Madonna said.

But some politicians bottom out and make comebacks, Madonna said. And many Democrats are evasive when asked about Kane’s political future and publicly refrain from criticizing her, he said.

Wolf, a York County Democrat, in March criticized Kane’s decision not to prosecute the lawmakers whose acceptance of cash from the informant was caught on tape. Asked about it recently, Wolf told WNEP-TV in Scranton, Kane’s hometown, that the legal system will take its course.

“Right now, Gov.-elect Wolf is focused on his administration,” his spokesman, Jeff Sheridan, told the Tribune-Review.

“The two prime critics of Kane are Seth Williams and Bob Brady, both of whom are from Philadelphia. I think Kane will find herself in more serious trouble if Democrats outside of the southeast begin to voice more criticism,” said J. Wesley Leckrone, a political science professor at Widener University in Chester.

Madonna noted that Kane won in 2012 — as a largely unknown Lackawanna County assistant district attorney — without the state party’s endorsement.

Still, Leckrone said, “this could signal potential problems for Kane concerning a primary opponent in the 2016 election. Brady and the Philadelphia Democratic Party endorsed Patrick Murphy in the 2012 primary for attorney general. Since Kane was never really ‘their’ candidate, Brady’s actions could signal a willingness on his part to support a primary challenger.”

During The Pennsylvania Society weekend, Murphy, a former congressman, told the Trib that Kane “ruffled some feathers that needed ruffling.” He did not criticize her.

With family-funded TV advertising, Kane won the office while promising to be “a prosecutor, not a politician.” She touted an endorsement from former President Bill Clinton. Murphy in 2008 had endorsed Barack Obama for president, instead of Hillary Clinton.

Kane’s emergence as a fresh face in statewide politics elevated her to superstar status among Democrats shortly after her inauguration. During her first year as attorney general, she blocked Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s lottery expansion plan and began investigating how the Jerry Sandusky pedophilia case was handled when Corbett was attorney general.

In June, Kane announced that her investigators found no evidence that Corbett deliberately delayed investigating Sandusky to slide past the 2010 gubernatorial election. Sandusky, 70, a former Penn State assistant football coach, was convicted of 10 counts of child molestation.

Brad Bumsted is Trib Total Media’s state Capitol reporter.

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