PHILADELPHIA (CBS/AP) — The final debate among the four Democrats seeking their party’s nomination to take on Republican Gov. Tom Corbett in the fall veered between responses to policy questions and efforts to bend answers into attacks on front-running first-time candidate Tom Wolf.
The hour-long debate was moderated by KYW Newsradio Special Contributor Larry Kane.
Listen to the full debate in this CBS Philly podcast:
The debate, at Drexel University on Monday, ended a long string of more than a dozen and came eight days before the May 20 primary election. It also was in front of the candidates’ biggest TV audience — Drexel said 22 radio and TV stations carried it live — and perhaps was a last, best chance to sway the party faithful.
Panelist Sandra Dungee Glenn, a former School Reform Commission member, asked the opening question on properly funding public schools.
“If we start with a $1.6 billion drillers tax, 10 percent as opposed to the 4 or 5 percent that my competitors have suggested, that’s the right kind of negotiation to be driving,” said State Treasurer Rob McCord.
Former DEP Secretary Katie McGinty said underfunding is actually more expensive.
“The cuts have been so severe in public education that we really are risking our bond rating and the willingness of investors to keep standing with us,” said McGinty.
“No one else has the kind of experience I have in education. I served as Democratic education chair in the Senate for 10 years. I know what it means to get a fair funding formula,” said Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz.
Businessman and former Revenue Secretary Tom Wolf on funding methods:
“Severance tax, funding from a re-shifting of priorities within the general fund but I would also try to engender more support for public education like reducing the reliance on the local property tax.”
The Democrats agree broadly on major themes such as increasing taxes on Pennsylvania’s booming natural gas industry, increasing funding for education and raising the minimum wage. For the past month, state Treasurer Rob McCord and Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz have turned the debates away from issues and focused on attacking Wolf.
As if to underscore the nastiness of the past month, the candidates were asked at the end of the debate by moderator Larry Kane, on behalf of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, if they would attend a unity breakfast after the primary election. They each said they would.
During the debate, McCord and Schwartz were asked by debate questioners to justify their attacks.
McCord and Schwartz defended themselves by saying they were simply trying to ensure that the Democratic Party emerged from the primary with the best candidate to take on Corbett. And they repeatedly questioned whether Wolf, who has led a family-owned business for most of the last three decades and used his wealth to outspend the other candidates’ campaigns, is experienced enough to get Democratic priorities through a Republican-controlled Legislature.
“There’s just no evidence at all that being unvetted, untested in the primary is a good idea,” McCord said, before he compared Wolf to Corbett. “We’re making sure we don’t have another untested Tom.”
Wolf countered that his record speaks for itself, including his work in the nonprofit sector to improve York, where his company, the Wolf Organization, is headquartered. He cast himself as the best candidate prepared to harness Pennsylvania’s private sector and use it to improve the economy.
Wolf, who holds a doctorate in political science from MIT and served briefly as secretary of revenue under former Gov. Ed Rendell, also scoffed at the notion he is unqualified to be governor. If that is true, it is “a serious indictment of our democracy,” he said.
The fast-moving debate lasted an hour and often overshadowed former environmental protection secretary Katie McGinty, who worked to concentrate her attacks on Corbett and give the most detailed policy answers.
Perhaps her best moment occurred when she pushed aside Schwartz’s and McCord’s criticism of Wolf. Rather, voters are talking about school service cuts, the sluggish hiring environment in Pennsylvania and people losing access to state-sponsored health care under Corbett, McGinty said.
“I think we need to work time and overtime in making sure we’re addressing those main issues,” McGinty said.
While Schwartz and McCord have tried to attack Wolf a number of different ways, the most prominent issue Monday night was Wolf’s relationship with a former York mayor charged with murder and acquitted in the death of a black woman during the city’s 1969 race riots.
McCord used his time to answer a question about changing the criminal justice system to bring up the issue of the former York mayor.
The debate was briefly interrupted by an anti-drilling demonstrator who climbed on stage. The four candidates are not in favor of stopping the booming exploration of the Marcellus Shale natural gas formation in Pennsylvania.
Corbett has no primary opponent, even though his campaign is now aggressively attacking Wolf in a TV ad. Every Pennsylvania governor since 1974 has won a second term, but Corbett’s political support remains stubbornly low.
After being questioned for about an hour, the candidates were given a chance to close the deal on why each should be the nominee.
Wolf said, “What we need is someone who comes with a very broad background and a real appreciation of what we have here in Pennsylvania. We could be a great state. We could be an example to the rest of the world.”
“Every decision I make as Governor will be able creating those jobs, strengthening the middle class and giving a hand-up to those who are trying to get into the middle class,” said McGinty.
Schwartz said, “I’m somebody who brings a wealth of experience and record of accomplishment that is unmatched on this stage and I want to use that experience and that record of knowing how to get things done.”
“Pennsylvania public education rescued me and I’m running for Governor to rescue Pennsylvania public education. To do that, you need somebody who will stand tough sometimes,” said McCord.
KYW Newsradio’s John Ostapkovich and CBS 3’s Todd Quinones contributed to this story.
(TM and© Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)