For ambitious Pennsylvania politicians, there may be no better career springboard than the three statewide row offices that are open in the Nov. 6 election.
The winning candidates for attorney general, auditor general and state treasurer will get a four-year term as chief executive officer of an independent state agency with unique powers, a $150,000-plus salary and a bully pulpit they can use to shape their futures.
Past followers of this path include Democrats U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, a former state auditor general and treasurer, and his father, the late Gov. Robert Casey, who served as auditor general. Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, is a former state attorney general.
Each of this year’s races is playing out according to its own special dynamics:
• Kathleen Kane, an ex-prosecutor from Scranton, hopes to follow up her primary-election victory over a former congressman by beating Republican nominee David Freed, the Cumberland County district attorney, to become the first woman and the first Democrat to be elected attorney general.
• Two state representatives, Democrat Eugene DePasquale of York County and Republican John Maher of Allegheny County, are running for auditor general even as they look out for their job security by simultaneously campaigning for re-election to the House.
• The only incumbent row officer on the ballot, Treasurer Rob McCord, a Democrat, faces opposition from Republican Diana Irey Vaughan, a longtime Washington County commissioner, in his bid for a second term.
The Libertarian Party also has nominated candidates for all three offices.
The Kane-Freed contest for attorney general is the most spirited of the three. But it’s unclear how many voters are paying attention, especially in a year in which they may be preoccupied with the presidential election or the rancorous debate over a photo identification law that the courts have effectively neutered for at least this year.
Barely three weeks before Election Day, only one televised debate has been held — among the auditor general candidates — and one is scheduled on Oct. 22 among the candidates for attorney general.
None of the campaigns has yet aired any TV ads, which can be a necessity in such a large and demographically diverse state.
“This is a big TV state. … You can buy TV and lose, but it’s hard to win without it,” said Terry Madonna, a pollster at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster.
Kane, who spent more than 12 years as a Lackawanna County prosecutor, has sought to make an issue of the state investigation that resulted in former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky being sentenced to at least 30 years in prison Tuesday for sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period.
The probe was launched while Corbett was the attorney general and continued through his 2010 gubernatorial campaign for governor and into his first year as governor.
Kane has vowed that, if elected, she would demand an investigation into why it took about three years for Sandusky to be charged. Freed has not ruled out a review of the case and has said that, if he were to come across any evidence that required a review, one would be done.
Kane’s husband put up nearly all of the more than $2 million she spent in the primary. In the general-election campaign, she has relied heavily on outside contributors, including organized labor, trial lawyers and a national Democratic political committee.
Freed, who was not opposed the primary, counts Republican leaders in the state Senate and a political committee headed by GOP national committeeman Robert Asher among his biggest contributors.
By mid-September, Kane and Freed each reported that their campaigns had about $1 million on hand.
Both sides say an air war is inevitable, but point out that one week’s worth of statewide air time, including broadcasters in the expensive Philadelphia media market, can cost nearly that much.
“We have two candidates who are still largely unknown,” said Freed campaign manager Tim Kelly.
Deciding how soon to put up TV ads is “a matter of resources,” said Kane campaign spokesman Josh Morrow.
A bigger challenge may be punching through the noise of the presidential and U.S. Senate campaigns.