It’s always hard to get people excited about statewide row offices, unless it’s the Attorney General’s race. Other races are often overlooked, like Treasurer, Secretary of State or something like the Auditor General. These positions are vital to state governments though; they help the governor control the state through laws, taxes and voting. They can also be used as stepping stones to a more known position, such as Governor, Senator or in some cases, Representatives.
Current Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale is trying to get the promotion. Now term-limited after eight years in the office, DePasquale is trying to flip a swing seat for Democrats in 2020. Of course that means that the Auditor General position is open in Pennsylvania, the only row office open this year. The GOP do not have a competitive primary, as they only have one candidate in their primary. The Democrats have an interesting primary though, as six candidates are on the ballot for the nomination.
What does the Auditor General do?
The job of the Auditor General is fairly simple. He gets to audit all the finances of anything that gets state funding. This includes municipal governments, school districts, state agencies – basically all things that fall under that purview.
This is the position where current Democrat senator Bob Casey Jr. got his start in statewide politics, which explains why Democrats have such a large primary this year.
There are currently six Democrats running for the position. I’m not going to go over all six of them, mainly because I believe that only three of them really have a shot.
Lamb currently serves as the City of Pittsburgh’s Controller. Looking at his website, Lamb states that he “has been an independent voice for the citizens of Pittsburgh”. Lamb also claims to have “eliminate city waste, fraud and abuse, strengthened the city’s finances and save citizens money.” Being from Allegheny and the only candidate in the primary from the western part of the state, Lamb hopes that the geographical advantage will work in his favor in the primaries. Pennsylvania voters across all spectrums are known to take geography into effect while voting, which Lamb will look for huge margins in Pittsburgh and its surrounding suburbs.
This geographical advantage shows in most of Lamb’s endorsements too. He’s been endorsed by both Pittsburgh-based Representative Mike Doyle and its suburban Representative, Conor Lamb. He also has endorsements from the top of the state senate Democrats in Jay Costa. His most surprising endorsement has to come from the east. Current Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney has endorsed Lamb, possibly giving him major legitimacy on the East side of the state.
Hartman is certainly seen as an interesting character for the Democrats, and not in a bad way either. Hartman made a name for herself in 2016 when she kept the race close against Lloyd Smucker in the previous PA-16 district in 2016. In fact, Hartman was possibly robbed of a swing seat contest with the redrawn map. Hartman is based in Lancaster County and was drawn into a much more Republican seat in the new map. She was basically forced out of that seat by progressives and then wasn’t able to get a run for the new swing seat (PA-10) off the ground.
Hartman is certainly still seen as a rising star by Pennsylvania Democrats. They believe she might be the key to cracking Lancaster’s red hue. Harman is defiantly taking a step forward with this run. While she does not have the same experience in the role that Lamb does, she does have twenty-plus years of experience running and managing major government projects. She hopes to use those roles as her gateway into a well run position.
Hartman may not have as many endorsements as Lamb, especially from the federal branch, but she does have a very crucial player on her side. Hartman is endorsed by former Governor Ed Rendell, who remains very popular among Democrats among the state. She hopes that Rendell’s endorsement, plus support from Democrats in Lancaster, Chester and Montgomery counties can give her huge majorities in the primary and carry her to the nomination.
Ahmad is arguably the wrench in this primary for the Democrats. Ahmad is running as the progressive candidate of the top three candidates, basing herself and her campaign on getting huge margins out of the city of Philadelphia. She has had a career that one would not think could lead to the Auditor General position. She has an admittedly fantastic story, immigrating to Pennsylvania from Bangladesh and then proceeding to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania with a PHD in Chemistry.
Ahmad has been a figurehead in progressive politics in the Philadelphia area for the better half of the last decade. She served as he President of Philadelphia’s NOW (National Organization for Women) for five years and has been on board with multiple other progressive organizations in that time frame as well. She also served as Deputy Mayor under Jim Kenney, which makes it interesting that she did not receive his endorsement. As Deputy Mayor, Ahmad quotes her managing of the $4 billion dollar operating budget as her main reason to why she is prepared to take on the job. Ahmad has also made combating Donald Trump a much bigger part of her campaign than the other two favorites.
As mentioned, Ahmad does not have the endorsement of her former boss Jim Kenney. She does however have the endorsement from PA-02 Representative Brendan Boyle. Ahmad also has support from numerous Philly area state legislators, most notably Katie Muth. She is also endorsed by the Philadelphia branch of the AFL-CIO. Her hopes rest on big margins out of Philly and Delaware while cutting into Hartman in the other surrounding areas.
The Republican Nominee
The Republicans ended up having only one candidate get on the final ballot. Chris Dush left to run for the open state senate seat left by Joseph Scarnati while Lancaster County commissioner Dennis Stuckey dropped out after failing to gain the party’s endorsement. The GOP nominee is likely the best choice they could have made for what is to be a competitive race. Timothy DeFoor, a Republican controller from Dauphin County and an African American, will be the GOP’s choice on the ballot.
DeFoor is an advantageous candidate for the GOP. He hails from a swing county in Dauphin, where a win there would be huge for any Republican candidate in a statewide race. His potential to get swing voters from counties such as Dauphin, Cumberland and possibly Bucks is huge for the GOP in this race. DeFoor highlights his time as Dauphin County Controller, mainly setting up an Audit division in 2016 and saving Dauphin County taxpayers over $1 million dollars since he took office.
DeFoor also has many connections to the Central PA community. He is the chair of the HACC (Harrisburg Area Community College) Foundation Board of Directors. DeFoor is also a member of the Harrisburg area NAACP. He hopes that his connections to swing areas in Central PA will carry over to other swing areas across the state and propel him to the Auditor General position.
Hartman vs DeFoor would mean a fundamental change in PA politics
If the race does end up being Hartman vs DeFoor, which I certainly believe it could, it would mean a shift in Pennsylvania politics. It has been a long time since a row office race was not contested by at least one person from the Philadelphia or Pittsburgh areas. A Lancaster v. Dauphin matchup would be one seen as unthinkable a decade ago. Instead, it shows how both counties have come to grow in importance to the state as a whole. Central Pennsylvania is slowly turning into the state’s battleground area. A highly competitive statewide race between two candidates from that area cinches that belief.
As with the row offices usually, Democrats are always slightly favored. Even with a slim victory by Donald Trump, Republican candidates in the open Attorney General and Treasurer races both lost by decent amounts. Row offices tend to be much less politicized, especially since they are usually overshadowed by the Presidential race in Pennsylvania. Here though, with DeFoor possibly having a better chance at getting swing voters than most Republicans, I have this race as a pure toss-up, though Democrats have better chances at holding this seat with Lamb or Hartman as their nominees. Ahmad winning the nomination could potentially nationalize the race, which might not be a positive for Democrats come Election Day.
This race is crucial for both sides in the end. Will Democrats continue their hold on Pennsylvania’s row offices or will the GOP take the first step towards replenishing their statewide bench for candidates? I’d advise politicos to pay attention to the Democratic primary on June 2nd and continue to watch this race as we head to the fall.