Ad war emerges in race for Pennsylvania attorney general

Candidates for Pennsylvania Attorney General (from left) Josh Shapiro and John Rafferty. (NewsWorks and AP file photos)

Candidates for Pennsylvania Attorney General (from left) Josh Shapiro and John Rafferty. (NewsWorks and AP file photos)

In the race to replace disgraced former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, voters will choose between a self-styled government reformer and a state senator — both from Montgomery County. With just over a month until Election Day, the TV ad war has begun.

In a TV ad that debuted Monday, Republican State Sen. John Rafferty’s campaign attempts to link his opponent, Democrat Josh Shapiro to two members of his party taken down in corruption scandals: Kathleen Kane and Rob McCord. Last winter, McCord resigned as state treasurer when he pleaded guilty to extortion. In August, Kane was found guilty of perjury and other charges in a scheme to embarrass a political enemy and will be sentenced in October.

“Our disgraced attorney general. Our disgraced state treasurer, and Josh Shapiro who bankrolled their campaigns,” says the 15-second spot

Campaign finance records show Shapiro gave Kane’s campaign $5,000 in October 2012, one month before she won the general election, and his political action committee donated $1,000 to McCord in November of the same year.

The ad also references an attack made by one of Shapiro’s primary opponents, Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli – that the Montgomery County Commissioner voted to award major contracts to his campaign donors, an attack the Shapiro campaign dismissed as “desperate.”

Shapiro is hitting back with his own ad saying that as a member of the state’s Republican majority, Rafferty has voted for budgets that decreased spending on programs to help fight the heroin epidemic.

“John Rafferty is the Harrisburg legislator who voted to cut funding for drug treatment and Rafferty voted to elminate funding for overdose kits for emergency responders,” it says.

Rafferty’s campaign manager Mike Barley accused the Shapiro campaign of “cherry picking” votes and pointed out that Rafferty worked with Democrats to pass a bill to allow police, firefighters and other responders to carry the overdose antidote Narcan.

The warring ads are part of an effort by both candidates to show they have the right experience to turn around an attorney general’s office wracked by scandal, but analysts say the biggest factor in this race will be the presidential contest.

“So much of who turns out for the presidential race is based on how they feel about that race and not the down ballot offices,” said Muhlenberg College political scientist Chris Borick. “So you’re going to probably get people showing up this fall that really haven’t thought a lot or heard a lot about the attorney general race and they’re going to cast ballots.”

Recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton’s lead over Republican Donald Trump shrinking in Pennsylvania, which could work in Rafferty’s favor.

Barley said that is true, but argues there could also be moderate voters willing to split their ticket. 

“It isn’t a political office,” he said. “It’s about making people safe.”

Asked if he was concerned about the effect of Clinton’s declining poll numbers, Shapiro’s campaign manager Joe Radosevich responded with a flat out “no,” and pointed to endorsements his candidate has received from members of both parties, including Rafferty’s primary opponent Joe Peters, a former federal prosecutor.

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