Avoiding a showdown over the leadership of the Democratic State Committee, Katie McGinty has abandoned her candidacy and instead will preside over a new, independent committee to coordinate fundraising for Democratic campaigns this fall.
Ms. McGinty, one of Tom Wolf’s defeated rivals in the Democratic primary for governor, had been the nominee’s choice to lead the party organization. In an email last week, Mr. Wolf asked the committee members to support her.
But Jim Burn, the current chairman, refused to defer to the York businessman and insisted that he would remain a candidate for re-election in the group’s organizational meeting this weekend outside Harrisburg. As late as Wednesday, speaking at a campaign event in Oakmont, Mr. Wolf maintained that Ms. McGinty remained his choice to head the state party.
On Thursday afternoon, Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, who had been Mr. Wolf's choice to be vice chairman of the state party, predicted that the state committee issue would be resolved before the day was over. Later that day, Mr. Wolf’s campaign announced the new campaign organization and the recast role for Ms. McGinty.
The development means that Mr. Wheatley will not be a candidate for the vice chairmanship. Assuming that Mr. Burn, who now is unopposed, is re-elected, that would preclude Mr. Wheatley’s eligibility. Party rules specify that if a man is chosen to lead the group, the second in command should be a woman.
The development is a victory for Mr. Burn who is poised to retain the committee gavel despite his nominee’s wishes, but the victory could prove hollow if Mr. Wolf and other party leaders bypass him and the traditional Democratic State Committee organization in fundraising and other campaign logistics.
In what inevitably would be interpreted as a calculated rebuff, Mr. Wolf’s campaign said he would not appear at the committee meeting this weekend. One veteran committee member said that it would be the first time in recent memory that a Democratic gubernatorial nominee had failed to show at the party’s regular post-primary meeting.
Mr. Burn, a former Allegheny County councilman and former chairman of the county Democrats, declined to be interviewed but issued a statement.
“I would like to congratulate Katie on her new position. She brings a dynamic personality and skill set that will certainly help Tom Wolf as we all move forward,” Mr. Burn said. “We in the state party are happy for Katie and Tom. We pledge our support and all of our energy to work with Katie and Tom Wolf to remove Tom Corbett, America’s least popular governor, from office.”
The Wolf campaign’s announcement made direct reference to the state committee confrontation.
“Tom Wolf is a different kind of leader, and this will be a different kind of campaign,” Ms. McGinty said in a statement that the Wolf operation released. “We need to shake up the status quo, and that goes from changing the way we campaign to changing the way we govern.”
State Sen. Jay Costa, the leader of Senate’s Democratic caucus, welcomed the new entity and called it an asset to the party’s effort to recapture the chamber’s majority, a goal that has eluded Democrats for decades.
“I commend Tom Wolf’s focus on not only winning the governor’s mansion but flipping the Senate as well,” he said.
The state Republican Party issued a statement characterizing the Democratic infighting as a rejection of the candidate who won its nomination in a landslide.
“For the second time this year, the Pennsylvania Democratic Party has flatly rejected Tom Wolf,” Megan Sweeney, the GOP’s communications director, said in a statement. “Tom Wolf is a typical politician who tried to force his choice for Democratic Party chairman onto a party that doesn’t trust his judgment.”
Politics editor James O'Toole: email@example.com or 412-263-1562.