Philly-ing a gap | Slag Heap
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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Philly-ing a gap

Posted By on Tue, Feb 2, 2010 at 10:14 AM

PoliticsPa is reporting that the field of Democratic gubernatorial wanna-bes is likely to get more crowded. State Senator Anthony Williams, who hails from Philadelphia, says he hopes "to, at minimum, force the Republican and Democratic candidates to begin addressing issues such as gun-control and inner-city poverty."

Out in Philadelphia itself, there's been talk about this for the past week or so. Williams, who would be the lone black candidate in the race, is apparently concerned that none of the current contenders is paying enough attention to urban issues or poverty.

Williams hasn't committed to a race yet, and it's hard to image how he's going to pull together a viable campaign between now and a primary election just over three months away. But it appears increasingly likely that he'll enter. And all the talk points up a problem the other Democrats face: None of them have much resonance in Philadelphia -- a critical Democratic stronghold

Polling data shows that only 1 in 10 Philly voters knows enough to have an opinion about Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato -- who is the closest thing there is to a Democratic frontrunner at this point. Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty fares no better, and state Auditor General Jack Wagner, another Western Pennsylvanian, does only slightly better despite holding a statewide office.

The only Democrat with any name recognition to speak of in the area is Joe Hoeffel, a county commissioner from Montgomery County, which is just next door to Philly. And still, only about a third of city voters know enough to have an opinion about him. 

Of course, the Republican frontrunner, state Attorney General Tom Corbett, has problems in Philly too. He's no better known than Hoeffel, and the conventional wisdom is that voters out in Philly are less worked up about Harrisburg corruption -- Corbett's signature issue -- than voters elsewhere.

But then Corbett doesn't need to do well in Philly. The challenge here is that Democrats have won statewide races in recent years largely by appealing to the huge pool of votes in Philadelphia and the surrounding area. That was the key to Gov. Ed Rendell's success, and to that of presidential candidates like Barack Obama. And if you don't have name recognition, it doesn't come cheap: Philadelphia is the state's most expensive ad market, so it's a lot cheaper if they know you in Philly already. 

Would Williams' entrance into the race be a problem for Democrats? I don't know. But all the talk reflects a problem that Democrats already have.

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