If U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz decides to run for governor, which she is strongly considering, it could start a game of Jewish political musical chairs in the region.
As many as three Jewish Democrats from Montgomery County reportedly have expressed interest in seeking the Democratic nomination to run against Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in 2014.
State Treasurer Rob McCord, who was just re-elected in November and has called himself a secular Jew, has long been considered a potential candidate for the governor’s mansion.
A Feb. 18 story in The Philadelphia Inquirer also mentioned Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro as a possible gubernatorial hopeful. A source close to McCord confirmed he’s eyeing a run. Shapiro declined to discuss the race specifically. "Right now, I am focused on doing my job representing the people of Montgomery County well and the politics will follow."
Michael Bronstein, a Democratic political consultant, said he doubted that Schwartz, McCord and Shapiro would all throw their hats into the ring, but “all three are gubernatorial material. All three would be able to raise the shekels for the office. The Jewish bench is very deep.”
Bronstein said Schwartz has been doing a great job of creating buzz and forcing the other potential contenders to react to her moves.
For now, the state’s political class is awaiting an official announcement from Schwartz. Her chief of staff, Rachel Magnuson, told the Jewish Exponent this week: “Congresswoman Schwartz appreciates the support she is getting from all corners of Pennsylvania to run for governor. She is weighing this decision carefully.”
In Pennsylvania politics, speculation over who might challenge a sitting governor doesn’t usually get this much attention. Since the state Constitution was amended in 1968 to allow governors to sit for two terms, no incumbent has lost — and most have cruised to victory.
But some of Corbett’s actions, particularly his decisions to slash funding to education and social service programs, have proved deeply unpopular.
A Franklin & Marshall College Poll, released Feb. 2, showed Corbett’s approval rating at the lowest of his tenure, with just 26 percent of respondents saying he has done an excellent job. With this backdrop, Democrats think they have a rare opportunity to defeat a sitting governor.
Running for governor would be the most high-profile move in Schwartz’s 20-plus years in electoral politics. She’s a former state lawmaker who is serving her fifth term in the U.S. House of Representatives. She’s the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and is a longtime member of Germantown Jewish Centre. She is both the only Jew and the only woman representing the state in Congress.
She holds influential posts on the House Budget and Ways and Means committees, a position she used just last week to enable an official with the Jewish Federations of North America to testify against any proposals to amend or limit charitable tax deductions.
The 64-year-old lawmaker has built a reputation as a centrist open to the concerns of business leaders, though opponents have long tried to brand her as a liberal out of step with her moderate district.
Schwartz is a prodigious fundraiser — both for herself and others — and she has more than $3 million in federal campaign funds that she can use to seek state office.
The congresswoman faces re-election to her House seat in 2014 and, legally, she can run for statewide and federal office simultaneously. She’d have to give up one of the offices if she won both.
But Terry Madonna, who directs the Franklin & Marshall poll, said that as a gubernatorial candidate, Schwartz would face considerable political preassure to give up her House seat.
“For her, it is a very high risk, high reward opportunity,” Madonna said, adding that she could find herself in the governor’s mansion, or potentially, she could lose that race and find herself out of Congress as well.
Observers are already speculating that Shapiro and others are eyeing Schwartz’s 13th district, which includes parts of Philadelphia and Montgomery counties.
This isn’t the first time Schwartz and Shapiro have been considered potential candidates for the same office. In 2009, both were mentioned as possible challengers to then-Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, but then Specter switched parties, and Shapiro and Schwartz each got out of the race. The late Specter lost the 2010 primary to Joe Sestak, who in turn was defeated by Pat Toomey.
Schwartz supporters, meanwhile, are eagerly awaiting an announcement.
Jill Zipin, who last year hosted a fundraiser for Schwartz in her Horsham home, said, “She is incredibly intelligent. She has done a tremendous job and has been a strong advocate for women’s rights and health care.”
“It is also nice,” Zipin added, “as a Jewish woman, to see that a Jewish woman may be running.”