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Retired 2-star Sestak may run for Pa. governor

Nov. 23, 2012 - 08:53AM   |   Last Updated: Nov. 23, 2012 - 08:53AM  |  
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HARRISBURG, Pa. The Democratic sweep at the top of Pennsylvania's ballot has so energized the party that three prospective candidates are already sending out strong signals of interest in contesting Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's re-election bid two years from now.

York businessman Tom Wolf, Philadelphia millionaire Tom Knox and state government veteran John Hanger said in recent telephone interviews they are seriously considering seeking the 2014 Democratic nomination or have already decided to run.

Former U.S. Rep. Joe Sestak, a retired Navy vice admiral who narrowly lost his 2010 bid for U.S. Senate, declined to be interviewed by telephone. In an email, he said he is "very interested" in returning to public service but would not discuss his plans for 2014.

Several other Democrats did not rule out campaigns, including Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, state Treasurer Rob McCord and retiring state Auditor General Jack Wagner.

The state's best-known Democrats U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, who was re-elected this month, and former Gov. Ed Rendell made clear that they do not intend to run.

"My focus has been and will continue to be the work I'm doing," Casey said Wednesday. "I'm very content in the Senate."

Rendell, a regular guest on the TV talk-show circuit since he left office in 2011, said the state constitution bars him from running for governor again and that even if he could run, he wouldn't.

"I've been there, done that," he said.

In the Nov. 6 election, Pennsylvania voters picked Democrats for president, U.S. Senate and all three of the statewide row offices.

Democratic interest in ousting Corbett has been fueled by factors that include his low job-approval rating 40 percent in a Quinnipiac University poll released this month, up from a nadir of 35 percent in June and public disenchantment over more than $1 billion in spending cuts for public schools and state-supported universities last year.

While Corbett, formerly the attorney general, has signed state budgets on time and kept his promise not to raise taxes, even some GOP leaders roll their eyes over his low-key public persona and his tendency to soft-pedal job-producing projects that he supported.

Corbett has two years to fine-tune his message and build a re-election campaign now in its earliest stages. He'll have the incumbent's fundraising advantage in a campaign that his top political adviser estimates will cost at least $25 million to $30 million.

"There's a long time in the political world between now and the 2014 election," said the adviser, Brian Nutt, who predicts the campaign will hinge on jobs and other fiscal issues.

Corbett also will have history on his side. Every Pennsylvania governor since Milton Shapp was elected in 1970 has served two consecutive terms, with the two parties taking turns in the governorship every eight years.

Still, among many Democrats, optimism runs high.

"I believe I'm going to run right now," said Knox, 71, a businessman who ran unsuccessfully for Philadelphia mayor in 2007 and abandoned a 2010 bid for governor before the primary. "Circumstances happen that might change our mind, but at the present time I'm fully committed."

Wolf, 63, served nearly two years as Rendell's revenue secretary and has contributed generously to Democratic candidates over the years. He said his decision on whether to run ultimately will hinge on the financial condition of the building-products company he heads and that his ancestors launched six generations ago.

"I'm not only not ruling it out, I would love to do this," said Wolf, who considered running in 2010 but decided it would interfere with his business responsibilities.

Hanger, 55, a Harrisburg lawyer, said he hopes to make a decision on a run within the next few weeks and is meeting with potential backers.

Hanger served on the state Public Utility Commission for five years in the 1990s and headed the Department of Environmental Protection under Rendell for nearly three years. He also was the founding president of the environmental group PennFuture.

"I'm as strongly interested as you can be," he said. "There's a lot of folks who agree that I am prepared to be governor."

Among those who are keeping their options open, Pawlowski said he is seriously considering a bid for governor in 2014, but winning a third term as Allentown's mayor next year is his priority for now.

McCord, a former venture capitalist from the Philadelphia suburbs who was re-elected as state treasurer this month, said the 2014 election was "not my focus right now" but did not rule out a campaign.

Wagner, who is winding up an eight-year tenure as state auditor general, said he is not ruling out another gubernatorial bid but that he is concentrating more on a possible campaign for Pittsburgh mayor next year. Wagner ran for governor in 2010 but came in second in a four-way Democratic primary.

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