Knox drops out, endorses Onorato

Philadelphia businessman Tom Knox has bowed out of the Democratic gubernatorial primary, and is endorsing Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato. The move narrows the field to four candidates: Onorato, Auditor General Jack Wagner, Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty and Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel.

Knox said his reasoning is straightforward – his wife didn’t want him to run. (“Why?” A reporter asked. “Ask her,” said Knox. “Every time I put words in my wife’s mouth she gets mad at me.”)

Knox plans on supporting Onorato financially, and says the western Pennsylvania lawmaker is the best Democratic candidate. “In order to lead in a state like this you have to have actual experience in hiring people and, you know, holding them accountable,” he said.  “And the one person I see in this race that’s had actual experience in holding people accountable, and a person that I think is going to stay in and win this race, is Dan.”

In a statement, Onorato said, “Tom Knox has shown himself to be a true leader on government reform, economic development and education and I welcome his strong support.  Tom’s focus on these and other issues was an important contribution to this campaign cycle’s dialogue. I look forward to continuing to focus on the policies that are essential to growing Pennsylvania’s economy and creating jobs that will get our residents back to work.”

While Knox’s personal endorsement may not gain Onorato traction with voters, the move gives his campaign a big boost by eliminating the only candidate who could have gone toe-to-toe with Onorato on ad buys and spending. Knox acknowledged that today.” I was going to spend ten million dollars, Dan was probably going to spend ten million dollars. We were going to beat each other up,” he said.  “And that’s not appropriate to do in a Democratic primary, and then after all that, allow a Republican to become the next governor.” Onorato has raised over eight million dollars so far. Wagner, Doherty and Hoeffel have taken in far less.

Political scientist Terry Madonna of Franklin and Marshall College argued Onorato now has a big advantage over his opponents. “Becoming a statewide presence, particularly in the state’s six television markets, is very important as this primary moves forward. And at the moment only one candidate seems to have the resources to do that,” he said.  “Of the remaining Democrats, only Onorato seems to have the capacity to become a statewide TV candidate.”

Other campaigns grumbled to Capitolwire and other news outlets that Knox was angling for an appointment to the Liquor Control Board, but Knox insisted there was no quid-pro-quo. “It’s inappropriate for me to ask him for anything. After he’s elected, if I wanted something that would be the time to tell him. Not until. It’s not appropriate to be asking people for favors because you’re getting out of the race”

In fact, Knox laughed off the LCB as a whole. “That would probably be the last job I’d want. If I’m going to do something in government I’d want to do something meaningful. Not something that has to do with wine and spirits.

Knox said the decision will leave him with a tinge of regret. “I’ll always think that I could have been governor, and done a great job. It saddens me to get out of this race. I’ll never know.”

Madonna’s final take? “On balance this will help the Onorato candidacy,” he said. “It seems to be leading toward a consensus candidate. But in of itself it doesn’t seal the deal. It doesn’t guarantee that Onorato will be the nominee. It’s not a game-changer, but it is very helpful to Onorato.”

About pubradiopolitics
Scott covers state government and politics for Pennsylvania's public radio stations, including WITF in Harrisburg, WHYY in Philadelphia and WDUQ in Pittsburgh.

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