HERSHEY, Pa. -- State Treasurer Rob McCord got the most votes today, but not the supermajority needed for his party's endorsement for governor, meaning that the Democrats are heading for an open primary on May 20.
Mr. McCord led the pack at the state committee meeting with 146 votes among the 314 cast on the first ballot. He was followed by U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, 75; York businessman Tom Wolf, 52; John Hanger, a former state environmental secretary, 22; and former DEP Secretary Katie McGinty, 19.
Jo Ellen Litz, a Lebanon County commissioner, was also on the Democrats' ballot but failed to get any votes.
The party will not have an endorsed candidate because its rules demand a two-thirds majority. Mr. McCord's strong showing was built on his ability to attract votes across the state. Ms. Schwartz dominated the Philadelphia bloc's votes and won her home county of Montgomery but her appeal diminished as she moved away from her southeastern base.
In Allegheny County, the state committee members gave Mr. McCord, 9 votes; Mr. Wolf, 5; Mr. Hanger, 4; Ms. McGinty, 3; and Ms. Schwartz, 2 on the first ballot.
On a second and final statewide ballot, the order didn't change, even as there were slight shifts in the total. In that round, it was Mr. McCord, 154; Ms. Schwartz, 77; Mr. Wolf, 59; Mr. Hanger, 16; and Ms McGinty, 15.
The vote gave Mr. McCord bragging rights, but none of his rivals were expected to drop out. Max Myers, an evangelical minister from Cumberland County, didn't have his name placed in nomination but said he wold "absolutely'' remain in the race.
"It's a great win for our campaign,'' Mr. McCord said shortly after the vote. "It shows support across the Commonwealth.''
Asked if the party's backing made him the front-runner, he said, "I don't want to make any false claims. We seem to be making the most progress ... [voters are] concluding we're the best built to defeat Tom Corbett.''
A spokesman for Ms Schwartz, who has led in most early public opinion surveys on the race, put the best face on the results
"We wanted an open primary that's what the committee voted for today,'' said Mark Bergman.
Mark Nicastre, a spokesman for Mr. Wolf, also hailed the tally.
"We exceeded our expectations,'' he said. "Tom is not a conventional candidate ... we're going to go home and turn on the TV and see Tom's television ads and we're happy where we are.''
On Friday night, after the candidates had met in one more debate, they gathered with state Party Chairman James Burn and Rep. Bob Brady, the Philadelphia chairman who had previously endorsed his colleague, Ms. Schwartz.
At that point, all of the candidates supported the idea of an open primary, with no endorsement vote here, with the exception of Mr. McCord, who insisted, presciently, as it turned out, that the state committee members should have a chance to voice their preferences.
Under party rules, it would have taken a two-thirds majority to suspend the rules and forego an endorsement, the same supermajority needed for a candidate to receive an endorsement. Marcel Groen, the Montgomery County chairman made a motion to forego the endorsement vote but it was easily defeated.
The expectation going into the meeting was that no candidate would be able to meet that threshold, but Mr. McCord was calculating that tally with the committee would be strong enough for him to claim a moral victory if not actually claim the endorsement.
His leading tally seemed to vindicate his his oft-repeated claim that he was the candidate mostly likely to attract votes across the state.
The state committee doesn't have much of a track record of being determinative in Democratic primaries. Former Gov. Ed Rendell conceded the party support to now-Sen. Bob Casey in 2002, but won easily in the vote that mattered. Four years ago, former Auditor General Jack Wagner came in first in a field of candidates that included former Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato, although that ended up being an open primary as Mr Wagner fell short of the two-thirds majority needed for an official endorsement. Mr. Onorato went on to win the primary before losing to Tom Corbett in the big Republican year of 2010.
James O'Toole: email@example.com or 412 263-1562