Capitolwire: Rendell’s Williams boost “all about Arlen”

Capitolwire’s Pete DeCoursey has followed up on yesterday’s unexpected Rendell/Williams lovefest, and concludes “it’s all about Arlen.”

To recap, Rendell bent over backwards to praise Williams, calling him “visionary” and saying he “has earned the support of people in Philadelphia and throughout the entire southeast – and for that matter, throughout the entire state.” This seemed like unusually high praise from a neutral governor who most political observers say is not so subtly pulling for Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato.

DeCoursey argues Rendell’s Williams support has more to do with driving up African-American voter turnout in the Philadelphia area — a bloc Specter admits is crucial for his reelection chances.

He writes, if Specter is going to win, he needs higher turnout from black voters than the 15 to 17 percent that is projected by many insiders and polls.

So Rendell, Philadelphia City Democratic Committee Chairman Bob Brady and the rest of the state’s Democratic establishment are doing what they can to boost the candidacy of Williams. Because that is the best way, they believe, to hike Philadelphia black turnout well over 20 percent.

Rendell, Brady and the rest of the state’s Democratic establishment believe every black voter who goes to the polls for Williams, will also vote for Specter.

“We are doing everything we can,” said one participant in that effort, who has discussed it with the governor and Brady. “It’s all-out for Arlen. If it helped Arlen, Rendell would say anything, and give up anything but Ginger,” his dog.

Williams spokeswoman Nia Ngina Meeks refutes the argument. “The governor spoke to the quality and qualifications of Senator Williams,” she said. “He did not qualify that. He spoke sincerely about the campaign, and we’re taking the governor’s words at face value.”

Rendell sings Williams’ praises at Philadelphia press conference

Auditor General Jack Wagner says Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato is Governor Rendell’s “pony in the race.” A person in the audience at this afternoon’s Philadelphia Black Clergy press conference would think otherwise.

Rendell walked right up to the line of endorsing Anthony Williams, calling the Philadelphia state senator “creative” and “innovative,” adding, “some of his ideas border on visionary.”

Rendell said Williams “has earned the support of people in Philadelphia and throughout the entire southeast – and for that matter, throughout the entire state. Because he’s talked about issues and change.” Rendell went on, “some of the things he would do [would build] upon what we’ve done as an administration. But some of the things he would do in a different course. And just because it’s a different course doesn’t mean it’s not good for the commonwealth.”

The near-endorsement comes days after Rendell chastised all six gubernatorial candidates – but particularly Wagner and Attorney General Tom Corbett – for unfairly criticizing his administration’s record on education, and not providing specifics for how they would cut the state budget. Several candidates are campaigning on a plan to reduce the size of the General Assembly. Rendell says “we’d have better luck invading Ohio” than passing that sort of measure.

Williams said he appreciates Rendell’s praise. “It went everywhere as close as one possibly could to supporting me, at least in this part of Pennsylvania,” he said.

Williams goes after Onorato — but “mixed up the facts”

State Senator Anthony Williams says Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato’s actions don’t back his rhetoric, when it comes to job creation.

Onorato, the Democratic front-runner, has made his track record of growing education, research and health care jobs in Pittsburgh a central platform of his campaign. As the only other Democrat airing statewide television commercials, Williams could be viewed as Onorato’s strongest challenger.

Speaking at a Cumberland County business incubation center, Williams said Onorato’s message overstates his track record.

But Williams may have slipped up: as one example, Williams cited a visit to the Pittsburgh Tissue Engineering Initiative. He says the group’s deputy director, Ann Gleeson, expressed frustration that her organization didn’t receive any county funding.

Gleeson didn’t return my calls for comment, but told Capitolwire Williams “mixed up the facts,” and that the organization isn’t eligible for county funds. On top of that, Gleeson added, “I am not in business, that is a different field, but the county and state have done a great job with biosciences here, they have done a lot.”

Williams’ spokeswoman, Nia Ngina Meeks, said Williams’ comments to reporters were based on the conversation he had with Gleeson, and Williams told Capitolwire, “I know what she said and she said it.”

The Onorato camp responded to Williams’ criticism via email. Spokesman Brian Herman wrote, “unlike his critics who do not have executive experience, Dan Onorato has run the second-largest county in Pennsylvania, working to attract billions in economic development for the region, balancing a budget each year without raising property taxes and reforming government to save taxpayers millions of dollars.  And, at a time of national recession, Allegheny County’s unemployment rate is below the state’s and the nation’s.”

Williams says he’ll continue to draw contrasts between his record and Onorato’s in the final weeks before the primary. He declined to say whether those contrasts will come in the form of negative campaign ads.

More ads (and hard hats!): Williams and Corbett

With a nod to Alex Roarty of PoliticsPA and PLS, here’s the latest Anthony Williams ad. Note that Williams is the latest candidate to wear a hard hat, or speak to a group of construction workers wearing the headgear.

And here’s a link to Attorney General Tom Corbett’s new 30 second spot. It’s hosted on blip, not Youtube, so I can’t figure out how to embed the video on the blog. Again, please note the hard hat b-roll.

Williams on the air

Using  an optimistic voice-over guy who sounds eerily similar to Dan Onorato’s, Anthony Williams has a commercial on the air.

Here it is:

And in another commercial, Williams strolls through a sunny neighborhood and speaks directly to you, the voter.

Dems bring the energy at WITF debate

For the first time in the gubernatorial campaign, the Democratic candidates showed some energy during a debate, directly challenging each other on the issues during a forum aired this evening on WITF-TV.

Senator Anthony Williams and Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel had several lively exchanges, including a back-and-forth on whether Hoeffel would pledge to bar campaign contributors from winning state contracts or serving in his administration.

Hoeffel said he wouldn’t take Williams’ pledge.

The two also tangled on school vouchers. Williams is a strong supporter of subsidizing poorer and middle class children’s private educations with state money, but Hoeffel says that would undermine public schools. “What’s going to be left? What public school’s going to survive if the kids leave?” asked Hoeffel. “I’m going to worry about the child, and not the district,” responded Williams. “That’s the difference. For you, I think you believe in systems that are job employment places. But you don’t worry about — suppose somebody’s not doing their job?”

“You’ve got to have a public school that’s good covering every neighborhood in Pennsylvania,” said Hoeffel. “Survival of the fittest in public education would be a disaster.”

The forum featured several unscripted moments, as well. At one point host Nell McCormack Abom asked the candidates to name a mistake they had learned from. Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato couldn’t think of one.

Onorato had another rocky moment early in the forum, when Abom asked the candidates to pose questions directly to each other. The request seemed to take Onorato by surprise, and it took him an uncomfortable 16 seconds before he came up with a question.

The debate was held hours after the latest Quinnipiac University poll found most Democratic voters still have no idea who’s running. Onorato leads the latest survey with 20 percent, but nearly half of likely voters are still undecided, and seven in ten say they’re open to changing their minds between now and election day.

Williams to hit the airwaves

PoliticsPA has a nice exclusive today: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Anthony Williams will begin airing television ads in the Philadelphia market on Wednesday. Right now, Democrat Dan Onorato is the only statewide candidate on the air. According to the report, Williams will keep the ads on the air through the primary — that’s a commitment of several million dollars, and reflects a confidence the campaign will continue to build on the $1.7 million it raised last quarter.
Meantime, Senate candidate Joe Sestak remains coy about when he’ll start running ads. I asked him during a phone interview this afternoon. His response: “it’s going to be in the next six weeks.”

Hoeffel on the attack

Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel got a bit chippy during a mid-morning Capitol press conference. His first target: Attorney General Tom Corbett, who Hoeffel says is only joining the anti-health care reform lawsuit to score political points with conservative Republican voters — or as Hoeffel puts it, “teabagging tea partiers.”

Corbett’s campaign recently sent out a fund-raising mailer touting the lawsuit as proof the A-G “is working to stop the federal government from threatening individual liberties by imposing this mandate.” Hoeffel says that’s evidence of the Republican front-runner’s real motivations.

Hoeffel has tried to stake himself out as the liberal candidate in the race. He supports a graduated income tax, less abortion restrictions, legalized gay marriage and a host of other traditionally liberal policies. If the strategy is going to work, Hoeffel will need strong support from the Philadelphia suburbs on May 18th. To that end, many view Senator Anthony Williams’ campaign as a real threat to Hoeffel. So I took note when the commissioner took aim at Williams’ platform during an answer about education funding.

It’s one of the first times I’ve heard a Democratic gubernatorial candidate “go negative” about one of his primary opponents. Time and time again, the four Democrats have failed to offer clear policy distinctions during their joint forums or solo press appearances. (This is a clear contrast to the Senate race, where Arlen Specter, Joe Sestak and Pat Toomey are blasting out negative emails on a near-hourly basis.)

For his part, Williams says he isn’t worried his pro-vouchers stance turn off Democratic voters. In fact, Williams says he’ll make an issue of calling out his opponents for what he considers to be inconsistent views.

All six candidates will take part in a forum Wednesday night. It will be interesting to see whether Hoeffel continues to play offense in that setting.

PoliticsPA: Nutter to endorse Williams

Alex Roarty of PoliticsPA reports Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter will endorse Senator Anthony Williams’ gubernatorial campaign. Roarty writes, “Nutter’s endorsement likely adds credibility to Williams’ candidacy while boosting his image in not just Philadelphia, but the voter-rich southeast, which shares the city’s media market.”

Williams enters the Democratic primary

State Senator Anthony Hardy Williams is officially running for governor. “I’m out of the closet,” he joked at the Pennsylvania Press Club today.

Williams says he’s hired three staffers, opened up a Philadelphia office, and has already raised nearly two million dollars. Referencing recent polls showing single-digit and low-teen name recognition for the other Democrats, Williams said he’s confident his campaign will make up for lost time. “72 percent of the folks in Pennsylvania don’t even know there’s a gubernatorial race. I’m very comfortable if I’m on television they’ll at least notice there’s another guy running.”

Williams remains evasive on the source of his fundraising, saying only that his donors “come from a variety of backgrounds. Who are interested in, obviously in controlling costs, controlling spending in government, educational choice, people who are concerned about unions in Pennsylvania.” He acknowledged several Republicans have contributed to his campaign.

Moderator John Baer of the Philadelphia Daily News asked Williams about a range of topics during his lunchtime appearance at the Harrisburg Hilton. Williams said he’s hesitant about the impact of natural gas drilling, but wouldn’t support a moratorium on permitting or the leasing of state forest land. He’s against gay marriage, saying “a civil contract is adequate. I have no problem if somebody wants to use a religious sanctuary for a ceremony.” Williams doesn’t think lawmakers should have been allowed to recoup lost pay after last year’s 101-day budget impasse.

Williams says his strategy will be an intense focus on southeastern Pennsylvania. He pointed to the 2002 Democratic primary, where Bob Casey carried 57 counties, but lost to Ed Rendell due to strong turnout in Philadelphia and its suburbs.

The announcement brings the Democratic primary field back up to four candidates. Williams joins Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, Auditor General Jack Wagner and Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel in the race.

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