When Pennsylvania Treasurer Rob McCord opened his campaign for governor Tuesday, he spoke without notes for about 20 minutes, showing energy and passion, mixing personal experience with policy analysis, and apparently committing the first gaffe of his campaign.
Before the day was over, the State Republican Committee issued a press release saying McCord had “proved he is just not ready for prime time. He took a huge stumble out of the gate by calling Republicans names at his first campaign stop and insulting millions who have registered with the Party …”
At issue was a moment in his speech when McCord compared “smart Democrats” to some “dumb Republicans who try to govern by talking points.” You can hear the whole sentence in context by playing the audio above.
When I heard it, I wondered whether McCord had crossed a line, but chose not to report the sentence because it included a qualifier that “not all Republicans are not so smart,” and the critique was mainly about policy rather than brainpower. If it was a gaffe, it wasn’t much of one — more of a gaffelet.
Eyes on the prize
The interesting part of the story is how the Republicans got McCord’s remarks so quickly and turned them into an attack. The answer: A clean-cut guy on the press platform videotaping with a small camera and tripod was actually a young operative from the Republican State Committee.
McCord’s spokesman, Mark Nevins, said he knew the guy was there, and they’d had a pleasant word or two before the event.
“My view is they have a right to be there like anybody else,” Nevins told me. “It’s an unfortunate fact of life in modern campaigns that your opponents are going to track your every move. Both sides do it now.”
Indeed. One of my favorite campaign trail memories is riding on Ed Rendell’s campaign bus in western Pennsylvania during the 2002 gubernatorial primary and seeing a young man assigned by the campaign of his rival Bob Casey follow the bus everywhere in a small car and so he could videotape everything Rendell said.
The poor guy was run ragged, and Rendell eventually took a shine to him, once making sure he got a hardhat for a factory tour.
On Wednesday, McCord met with reporters in Harrisburg and the online news service Capitolwire reported that he he said, “I wish I hadn’t used the word dumb. I think a strength of mine is I tend to speak extemporaneously, and people accurately believe I am thinking on my feet and trying to be responsive to the moment. But now and then, my word choice is imperfect.”
In other gubernatorial campaign news, U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz has released a plan to improve education in the state, improving funding at every level and relying in part on a tax on natural gas extraction to pay for it. Details here.