Two gubernatorial candidates woo black voters

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Speaking in a rousing, pulpit-worthy cadence, state Treasurer Rob McCord reminded an audience at the Hill District's Central Baptist Church that his wife is African-American as he sought to forge a bond with the largely black crowd weeks before they would have a chance to vote in the Democratic primary for governor.

His voice rising, he told them that they had a chance to elect a governor who would have "a sister as his top adviser, who will be the first African-American first lady of Pennsylvania."

Katie McGinty, a former Cabinet secretary in the Rendell administration, made her own bid in the empathy sweepstakes as she criticized Gov. Tom Corbett's education policies, and asked rhetorically whether, if a woman had been governor, "the first place they would have looked to cut is kids."

The two Democrats spoke to a crowd of several hundred assembled Tuesday at the Wylie Avenue church by the African American Governor Candidates Forum Coalition. The two other Democratic contenders, businessman Tom Wolf and U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, skipped the forum, citing scheduling conflicts.

Mr. McCord took several opportunities to take shots at the apparent front-runner, Mr. Wolf, for failing to show. The free-spending businessman, who has contributed $10 million to his campaign, also was his unmistakable target as he urged the crowd to choose, "the person best built, not to buy the nomination, but to defeat Tom Corbett."

Mr. Wolf had been in Pittsburgh earlier in the day, touring Bloomfield storefronts with two of his more prominent local supporters, both of whom know the territory well: county Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who grew up in the neighborhood, and Mayor Bill Peduto, who represented the community during his years on city council.

They visited neighborhood landmarks including Dan Cercone's barber shop, the Paddy Cake Bakery, and the shrine to fallen police officers outside the parish house of St. Maria Goretti Parish. Mr. Wolf was represented at the Hill District forum by Rep. Jake Wheatley, who represents the community in the Legislature.

On the busy campaign day, a month before the May 20 primary, Ms. Schwartz didn't appear personally in Pittsburgh, but she made her own new pitch, launching a television ad that highlights her role in supporting the passage of the Affordable Care Act. The commercial, running across the state, is noteworthy in that, at a time when Democrats across the country are treating the legislation warily, Ms. Schwartz is embracing it so prominently.

The other three Democrats seeking the nomination share her overall position on the law. They have all criticized Mr. Corbett for failing to go along with the law's expansion of Medicaid and, also in contrast to the governor, they have said that they would establish a state-based exchange for Pennsylvanians shopping for health insurance under the law.

"I worked with President [Barack] Obama on the Affordable Care Act and getting health coverage to all Americans," Ms. Schwartz says at one point in the ad. "It was my legislation that said insurance companies can no longer deny coverage for kids with pre-existing conditions. It's something I'm proud of because it also closed the gap in prescription drug coverage for seniors."

Politics editor James O'Toole: or 412-263-1562.

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