EXCLUSIVE: Hoeffel will run for governor
Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Hoeffel has decided to seek the Democratic nomination for governor, jumping into an increasingly crowded primary field as he seeks to portray himself as a progressive standard-bearer for the party.
Hoeffel, fueled by a concern that the party may be tacking right, made his decision after commissioning a poll on the race that his campaign said yielded encouraging results. While no formal announcement has been scheduled, Hoeffel, a former Congressman, is in the process of staffing up for his first statewide campaign since he lost a Senate race to Arlen Specter in 2004.
“I do intend to run,” he told pa2010.com in an exclusive interview on Sunday. “I’m going to move forward aggressively. I’m in the race and ready to ride.”
An internal poll by noted Democratic pollster Celinda Lake found Hoeffel holding a narrow lead in a five-way Democratic primary. In the survey of 800 likely primary voters, 15 percent said they would support Hoeffel, compared to 12 percent each for Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato and state Auditor General Jack Wagner. Scranton Mayor Chris Doherty and Philadelphia businessman Tom Knox trailed the pack with six percent and five percent, respectively. The campaign released a poll memo but not the complete details of the survey itself, making its veracity difficult to assess. But Hoeffel was almost certainly boosted by the positive description used by interviewers, who called him “the one true progressive leader in this race, not afraid to stand up for working families, even when it’s politically unpopular.” The poll was consistent with other surveys in showing a majority of voters still undecided. [See the poll memo here.]
The political challenges for Hoeffel going forward are considerable, but he could very well be boosted by a geographic base in the heart of the Democratic primary electorate. He seemed destined for political obscurity after giving up his House seat in a failed bid to unseat Specter five years ago. After being elected a county commissioner, he was looking at a term as the minority opposition in county government. But Hoeffel forged a power-sharing agreement with Republican Commissioner Jim Matthews, locking out Republican Bruce Castor and amassing a significant amount of control over policy in the suburban Philadelphia county.
He won’t have the financial resources of a candidate like Knox, and may lack insider support compared to Onorato. But hailing from Montgomery County, which has led the leftward political trend in the Philadelphia suburbs over the last decade, has made Hoeffel a mainstay of party politics in southeast Pennsylvania, where the Democratic primary is likely to be decided. And having been prominently placed on a statewide ballot in 2004, his name recognition is likely to exceed other candidates.
“That’s probably why I have a narrow lead right now,” Hoeffel said. “I’ve got to build on that.”
Since news of his interest in the race first broke, Hoeffel has voiced concern that the party lacks a viable progressive candidate. While never criticizing them directly, his sentiments have clearly been aimed at Onorato and Wagner, who are seen as more socially conservative than the party’s liberal base.
“The other Democrats who are running are all good people, good public officials,” Hoeffel said. “We’ve got differences in policy matters, which should make for a healthy debate.
“I think the Democratic Party’s at a crossroads, and I don’t want to see it veer to the right,” he added. “I think the party’s got to hold the progressive center in Pennsylvania.”
He defined that “progressive center” as being “socially liberal and fiscally responsible.”
“That’s what I will stand for,” Hoeffel said.
He is only just starting to build a campaign team, but already has hired area political consultants Lou Freimiller and Lauren Townsend, whose Cheltenham-based firm has worked for various local Democrats.
Correction: This article originally included erroneously a politician represented by political consultants Lou Freimiller and Lauren Townsend. Freimiller has worked for Allyson Schwartz in the past, but the firm has not.
September 20, 2009 at 12:00 pm