Democratic ballot's where the action is
It's always great to be where the action is, and if you're a political junkie, that puts you smack dab in the middle of the Democratic primary.
With a field of six candidates each vying for the party's nominations for governor and lieutenant governor, Democratic voters, if nothing else, have more names to look at before they pull the levers or punch the screen.
For news organizations, the selection of the Democratic nominee for governor will be a story of major political significance the evening of May 20, given Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's anemic poll numbers and signs that the Keystone State continues to trend Democrat.
But the most telling results will be the Republican primary. Corbett is expected to win, of course, but everyone will be looking at how wide (or how slim) his margin of victory is over his primary opponent, Robert Guzzardi.
Although Republicans are not delirious about Corbett's prospects, it's significant that a serious intra-party challenge to him never surfaced. He could still pull it off, after all, if the eventual Democratic nominee turns out to be an ineffectual campaigner like Dan Onorato and if Pennsylvania voters decide they don't want to break their historic tradition of always re-electing governors.
A larger than expected showing by Guzzardi (more than 40 percent of the votes, perhaps) would be an embarrassment for Corbett and perhaps a harbinger of horrible things to come. But a blowout win by the governor could be just the spark his re-election campaign needs.
Tom Wolf, a York businessman who is a former state secretary of revenue, vaulted himself to the top of the Democratic field through an early flurry of TV advertising. He comes across as friendly, genuine and thoughtful, he has an attractive family, and people instinctively liked his message.
Will he and U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, long thought to be the front-runner, cancel each other out in a low-turnout election, to the benefit of one of the other three candidates, state Treasurer Robert McCord, former Auditor General Jack Wagner and former state environmental protection secretary Katie McGinty?
Jay Paterno, son of the late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno, is the most recognizable name in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, with his major opponents being former Congressman Mark Critz and Harrisburg City Council member Brad Koplinski.
By Labor Day 2013, Koplinski had already visited all 67 counties in his quest, so his candidacy shouldn't be taken lightly. Again, in a low-turnout race, it's also quite possible lightning could strike for any of the other Democratic lieutenant governor candidates, state Sen. Mike Stack, state Rep. Brandon Neuman and Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith. Incumbent Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley is running unopposed for the Republican nomination.
Andy Ostrowski, a civil rights attorney from the Harrisburg area, is unopposed on the Democratic ballot for U.S. Congress in the 11th District. He will face incumbent Republican Lou Barletta, also unopposed, in November.
It appeared just a few days ago that state Rep. Kurt Masser would be unopposed this year, but Chris Pfaff, running unopposed in the primary, is his apparent Democratic opponent this fall. Pfaff, who lives in Cooper Township, Montour County, has run for the 107th District seat three times before, twice as a Republican against state Rep. Bob Belfanti and, in 2012, in the Democratic primary against Ted Yeager.
Despite the importance of all these races, the 2014 primary election promises to be a low-stress experience for county election officials and local poll workers.
The 2010 election - the last with comparable offices on the ballot - attracted only 36 percent of Northumberland County Republican voters and 31 percent of Democrats. This poor level of participation occurred despite a highly competitive Democratic gubernatorial primary and hard-fought primary battles in both the 107th and 108th districts for open seats.
In the absence of local contested primary races, it will be up to gubernatorial candidates to generate enthusiasm that translates into voter participation.
(Betz is an assistant editor of The News-Item.)