Katie McGinty repeats The Thornburgh Mistake
Thornburgh McGinty
Embracing insider money and politics

U.S. Senate hopeful McGinty collects $1.5 million in TV ad money and more from DC power brokers

There are any number of reasons why the unseemly dumping of $1.5 million in television ad money from top party officials in Washington to McGinty’s foundering campaign is a bad idea, and may backfire on them all

Katie McGinty’s U.S. Senate campaign in recent weeks accepted $1.5 million from Washington DC’s Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC).

The money will be spent on last-ditch TV commercials in the weeks before Pennsylvania’s April 26 primary. And more money is pouring in to McGinty’s campaign from other national PACs.

The infusion of insider DSCC funds seems a measure of McGinty’s desperation to sway Pennsylvanians to vote for her. It may not do much good, and may hurt her.

For months Katie McGinty has run a surprisingly lackluster and conventional campaign for U.S. Senate.

McGinty’s campaign has been long on celebrity political endorsements — from officials such as governors Tom Wolf and Ed Rendell, and even President Barack Obama — and short on connecting with everyday Pennsylvanians.

In this year of political outsiders, McGinty has strangely run as the political insiders’ darling. So it’s no surprise that she’s consistently been running behind fellow Democrat and outsider Joe Sestak in polls to replace GOP Senator Pat Toomey.

Forget for a moment that the Democratic Senate campaign money almost certainly would have been better spent against Republican Toomey in the general election than Democrat Sestak in the primary.

If you think about what’s going on here, you really have to wonder about the leadership of the Democratic party on both the state and national levels.

McGinty’s $1.5 million in Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee funds is a gift from the party’s most senior officials, including President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and Senator Bob Casey Jr., news reports tell us.

There are any number of reasons why this unseemly dumping of television ad money from top party officials in Washington is a bad idea, and may even backfire on them all.

Accepting big bucks from DC insiders not only shows the level of McGinty’s desperation.

It suggests those in McGinty’s campaign are out of touch with real voters and their concerns on the ground here in Pennsylvania, and that they are clueless about this season’s political climate and the changing nature of today’s political campaigns.

John Fetterman

Braddock mayor John Fetterman: a strong campaigner, with things to say


In this the year of Political Outsiders Trump and Sanders, taking big bucks for TV ads from Washington insiders may yet amount to a stunning tactical error. McGinty’s backers may be desperate, but do they really think tying their candidate to political insiders and big campaign donations will help McGinty?

McGinty and those around her campaign apparently have short memories when it comes to losing Pennsylvania senate campaigns.

In 1991, following the untimely death of Senator John Heinz in a plane crash, former Pennsylvania governor and U.S. Attorney General Dick Thornburgh tossed his hat into the ring to replace Heinz.

Thornburgh announced rather arrogantly in an early campaign speech that he was an insider who knew “the corridors of power in our nation’s capital from my three years as a member of the President’s cabinet.”

This didn’t play too well with the voters of Pennsylvania.

Thornburgh had his head handed to him by a relatively unknown Harris Wofford, who responded that he’d rather “clean up the corridors of power” than boast about his chums walking in them. (Wofford, incidentally, turned 90 last week.)

Thornburgh “opened himself up to the voting public’s unease about an incumbent administration that seemed unable to cope with (or even take adequate notice of) the economic recession,” recounts Harvard professor Theda Skocpol in her book Boomerang (Norton, 1997). “Meanwhile, the improbable Wofford began to make headway with his argument that ‘the rich get too many breaks in America, while working families keep falling farther behind.’”

Sounds similar to today’s environment, doesn’t it?

The New York Times, summing up what it called “The Thornburgh Mistake,” and suggesting that Thornburgh had made the political error of the decade, wrote in 1992 that incumbents were no longer even mentioning that they were, well, incumbents.

“‘In the old days you came back home and bragged about how influential you were in Washington,’” said Charles E. Cook Jr., editor of The Cook Political Report, a newsletter that tracks Congressional and Presidential races,”the Times reported in 1992. “‘Now everyone is running as an outsider’ (citing) ‘The Thornburgh Mistake.’”

“You have to run against the establishment now,” the Times quoted Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s campaign manager. “Nobody is going to make the mistake that Dick Thornburgh did in Pennsylvania and say, ‘I know the halls of power.’

Hello: Katie McGinty just did. She’s taking big bucks from Washington power brokers, and boasting about it. And 2016 seems more of a year for outsiders than was 1991.

By accepting $1.5 million in last-minute Democratic Senate Campaign Committee money, McGinty is not only advertising that she rubs elbows with the usual suspects in the Halls of Power. She’s also saying she doesn’t mind asking them for a handout of a cool million with times get rough.

It’s not even certain that the $1.5 million in TV ads will do much to help McGinty in this changing and challenging political environment. It’s not all that certain that TV ads work as effectively as they once did. In this age of social media, the Internet, and declining television viewership, expensive and slick political TV ads are beyond passé. They’re a big part of the problem with our political system.

It seems to be a bad bet all the way around.

If McGinty loses, President Obama, Biden and Sen. Casey will be just as embarrassed and tarnished as was President H.W. Bush when Thornburgh went down.

(And Sen. Bob Casey should know better, since it was his dad, Gov. Robert. P. Casey, who helped engineer Thornburgh’s startling 1991 defeat. Thornburgh was rusty and out-of-touch with Pennsylvania electoral politics, Gov. Casey suggested at the time.)

Sestak’s been running a strong, nuts-and-bolts campaign on the ground across Pennsylvania. Should he win, DC Democrats will only be further alienating themselves from their nominee. So they’re risking shooting themselves in the foot, for no good reason.

And let’s remember that the Democratic party bosses are senselessly squandering millions of dollars that would be better spent in a general election campaign against vulnerable GOP Sen. Toomey.

The third Democrat in the race, Braddock mayor John Fetterman, has also proved to be a strong campaigner, with things to say. We should expect to be seeing and hearing more from Fetterman.

All things considered, the party bosses in DC would have been better advised to wait and see what the voters decide in the primary.

By prematurely weighing in against a popular and qualified candidate like Sestak, the DC Democrats come off as foolishly trying to drive McGinty down the throats of a disinterested electorate rather than tapping the zeal of Sestak supporters.

So whose bright idea was this?

A million and a half bucks of vacuous television ads smacks of the old-fashioned politics of Ed Rendell, who’s serving as McGinty’s campaign chairman.

In Rendell’s heyday, $1.5 million in Washington insider money may have been something to crow about.

These days it’s an embarrassment, and it foolishly risks ending Katie McGinty’s once promising political career.


- Bill Keisling
posted April 13, 2016


The memo Katie McGinty did get: Not for Public Release, A nuclear incident in Lock Haven Watch >

Larry Fennimore




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