Pennsylvania’s Attorney General race has had all the plot points of a great pulp novel: unproven allegations of a scandal within a scandal; blatantly false attacks; and hints of cronyism.
At the center are two well-pedigreed candidates.
An impeccably credentialed male prosecutor with the backing of the Republican establishment is going up against another well-credentialed woman prosecutor with the backing of the Democratic establishment — and a heck of a lot of money.
Dave Freed, who has been the Cumberland County district attorney for six years, was an assistant county district attorney.
The latter is a post he has in common with his opponent, Democrat Kathleen Kane. The former prosecutor in Lackawanna County spent more than 12 years as an assistant district attorney.
Both candidates say they’ll take a look at the handling of the Jerry Sandusky prosecution. Kane says it with a lot more suspicion and innuendo than Freed.
She’s worked to create a perception about her opponent’s relative friendliness with politically connected Republicans. It’s a charge that makes Freed bristle.
“I must have missed the phone call when Gov. Corbett called and handpicked me to run for attorney general,” says Freed. “That was a decision I made on my own.”
Freed received the governor’s endorsement in the GOP primary. His father-in-law is LeRoy Zimmerman, the commonwealth’s first elected attorney general. Zimmerman is still well known in Republican circles and as a former chairman of the Hershey Trust Company, which the attorney general’s office is currently investigating for reasons it won’t divulge.
Kane says she would be free of any political ties.
“The difference between my opponent and I is I was not handpicked by Tom Corbett,” she says. “I do not owe my candidacy to anyone.”
But she has family money, and high-profile backing from Democrats, including Bill Clinton, who joined her on the campaign trail in Philadelphia. She has also shied away from talking with the media — running a campaign mostly through television ads.
The job description
So, what does the attorney general do, exactly?
The responsibilities are manifold: the prosecution of various kinds of crime; overseeing grand juries; enforcing consumer protection laws; and defending the commonwealth and its agencies.
This is pretty much the job Freed is applying for in his bid for office, with an emphasis on the organizational aspect of the job.
“I know it’s not the sexiest answer, but the answer is we’ve got to make sure we’re as efficient as we can possibly be,” he says.
At the debate between the candidates in mid-October, Freed said his desire to do consumer protection work on a larger scale is the main reason he decided to run. And he has other top priorities, as well.
“I want to start right away a special victims unit, streamline the referral process,” he says. “I want to make us a leader in cyber-crime investigation, and I want to make sure that we battle synthetic drugs.”
Kane’s campaign suggests that the attorney general’s office could stand to change. Also during the race’s only debate, Kane promised she would try cases herself as attorney general if she were the most qualified lawyer in the office. And she pulled the mom card to answer a question about her managerial experience.
“I am a mother of two boys who are sitting right over here. I can see what they’re doing over there and pay attention to Mr. Freed and everyone else,” she said. “So I am a good multitasker.”
Kane has her own list of “if-elected” priorities. She refers to the “Harrisburg boys” like some vague bogeyman.
“I will make sure that the public corruption unit has more investigators and or prosecutors,” she said. “I will make sure that I use my independence to clean up Harrisburg.”
The ubiquitous ads
It’s hard to address this race without talking about the influence of money and advertising.
Earlier in the campaign, an ad funded by an outside group smeared Kane as being soft on rape. The ads came from the Republican State Leadership Committee, based in Washington.
They were roundly criticized for being false, even by Freed himself. He said he was disappointed in the ads. But Kane thought he stopped too short when he didn’t call for them to be pulled from the airwaves.
“I understand Mr. Freed has no control over the ads that the RSLC run but I do expect a candidate for attorney general to stand up for the truth,” she said at the time.
More recently, ads attacking Freed showed up on the airwaves. They were also bankrolled by an outside group — a Washington-based super PAC known as the Committee for Justice and Fairness. And the TV spots were also debunked as false.
Kane denounced the ads, and called for them to be pulled immediately. They played on.